Whether you are a student or reading academic documents, you will easily come across these two words in your documents. They often appear as a pair but not always, and a lot of readers get confused.

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Once you know the difference between them, you won’t be confused anymore. In fact, these two words mean close to each other. In this lesson, I want to explain this pair of words, their function in sentences, and how to best use them in writing.

When to use Former

When former is used in the opposite sense of latter, former is used simultaneously as an adjective or a noun. Now former means the first of two things (things) mentioned. Eg:

I was accepted to Harvard and Yale for college, but the former’s tuition was cheaper. (Adjective)I was accepted to Harvard and Yale for college, but the former had cheaper tuition. (Noun)

When to use Latter

Like the former, the latter can act as both an adjective and a noun.

Latter means the second of two things (things) mentioned. The word is taken from the Old English comparative laet: laetra, which means “slower.” Latter then means “second of two people or things.” Eg:

We went to the beach with Steve and Susie, the latter of whom would not stop complaining.You need to replace the tie-rod or the ball joint, the latter of which being more expensive.

One thing to keep in mind when using latter is not to confuse the word ladder. Even the pronunciation is almost the same, but the meaning is completely different. Ladder means a ladder.

As you can see the difference between them. In order not to confuse ladder and latter when writing, remember that latter is related to later. Both have the letter “t” inside.

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Use these two words carefully

You can try to use the words former and latter with more than two things mentioned, and although this trend is on the rise – even with official sources – it should be avoided as such.

There are three flavors in Neapolitan ice cream, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The former is my favorite. (Wrong usage)

There are clearer and easier ways to convey the same message without confusing the audience.

There are three flavors in Neapolitan ice cream, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The first of which is my favorite. (CORRECT USE)

Additionally, when you use latter and former in your writing, be sure to place them close to the words they replace (the person or thing they are related to). No one wants to have to go back and forth to understand the writer’s point because they forget what the former stands for and what the latter stands for. Please put close to the word they replace is best.

Remember the difference

These two words will be easy to manage when you remember this little trick.

Former is close to the word First. Both former and first begin with the letter “F.”

Latter is close to the word Last. Both latter and last begin with the letter “L.” Or you may also remember that the latter is more late than the former.

In a nutshell

Former is the first of two events (things) mentioned.

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Latter is the event (thing) after the two events (things) mentioned.

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If you’re in school or reading any type of academic prose, you have most likely seen these two words in some of your assigned readings. They usually appear as a pair but not always, and many readers find them confusing.

Once you know how to use these two words, they aren’t confusing at all. In fact, they have near opposite meaning. In today’s post, I want to go over the meaning of both of these words, the functions in a sentence, and how to best use them in your future writings.

When to Use Former

When former is used in the sense of former vs. latter, it is either acting as an adjective or as a noun. Former means being the first of two persons or things mentioned. For example,

I was accepted to Harvard and Yale for college, but the former’s tuition was cheaper. (Adjective)I was accepted to Harvard and Yale for college, but the former had cheaper tuition. (Noun)

When to Use Latter

Just as former can function as both an adjective and noun, so can latter.

Latter means being the second of two persons or things mentioned. It comes from the comparative form of Old English laet: laetra, which means “slower.” Latter subsequently took on the meaning “the second of two people or things.” For example,

We went to the beach with Steve and Susie, the latter of whom would not stop complaining.You need to replace the tie-rod or the ball joint, the latter of which being more expensive.

A note to keep in mind when using the word latter is not to confuse it with the word ladder. Even though they sound somewhat similar when you say them out loud, they are very different. A ladder is a device people climb up and down.

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As you can see, they are very different. In order to not confuse ladder and latter when you write, remember that latter is related to later. Both have “T’s” in them.

Be Careful Using These Words

You might be tempted to use former and latter with more than just two items, and although this tendency comes to the surface every now and then—even in respectable sources—it should be avoided.

There are three flavors in Neapolitan ice cream, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The former is my favorite. (WRONG)

There are much cleaner and easier ways to convey the same message without confusing people.

There are three flavors in Neapolitan ice cream, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. The first of which is my favorite. (CORRECT)

Additionally, When you use latter and former in your writing, be sure that they are in close proximity to their antecedents (the people or items to which they are referring). It is undesirable for the reader to go back and reread a passage because he forgot which one was the former and which one was the latter. It’s best to keep them as close as possible.

Remember the Difference

These two words are easy to keep track of if you can remember this one trick.

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Former is the first word. Both former and first start with the letter “F.”

Latter is the last word. Both latter and last start with the letter “L.” You can also remember that latter comeslater than does former.