Few things make a person sound as fancy as using the terms “former” and “latter,” but what do these words mean? Let’s dive into the definitions and correct usage of former vs. latter — all illustrated by hand-sketched cute drawings of cartoon examples and strange sentences from my years as an English teacher!
Former vs. Latter Meaning
In order to use “former” and “latter” correctly, you must first give a list of two things. “Former” then refers to the FIRST thing in the list, and “latter” to the second (aka LAST) thing in the list of two.
They are comparative, and the item that is referred to as “latter” is more advanced in time, or more recently done or said. Shall we try some examples to get a clearer understanding?
Former and Latter Example Sentences
“When pondering the dilemma of whether to eat the octopus or cactus, I decided on the former (the octopus — aka, the first thing in the list of two) because the latter (the cactus, aka, the second thing in the list) would have filled my mouth with spikes.”
- In this example, both “former” and “latter” are used as nouns for their part of speech.
“When she asked me whether I wanted ten of the pink flower crowns, or ten of the yellow ones, I chose the latter option (yellow) because the former color (pink) was more expensive. I’m not really sure why she charges more for pink flowers, but whatever.”
- In this sentence, both “former” and “latter” are used as adjectives as the part of speech because they are modifying the words “option” and “color,” respectively.
A Trick to Remember Former and Latter
Below is my cartoon of another “former” vs. “latter” example, except this time, I made the options have the same first letter as the corresponding word in order to help you remember which goes with which: Fish = First in the list = the Former (all starting with “F”), and Lampshade = Last in the list of two = the Latter (all starting with “L”). Of course, in order to use these terms, the items in your list do NOT have to start with “F” and “L,” but I thought it would be a Fun Little way to remember Former and Latter!
Other Definitions of “Former” and “Latter”
“Former” Definition and Example
In addition to meaning the first thing in a two-item list, “former” is frequently used as an adjective to describe a previous situation, role, or state of being (how something was in the past). For example, “In our former house — the one we lived in from 2003-2019 — the porch was big enough to hold a giant pumpkin every Halloween, but in our current house (the one where we live now), there is such a small porch that we couldn’t even fit a gourd!”
Below is another example, using my cartoon illustration of a former (previous) haircut, contrasted with a current haircut (now). For transparency, no, my hair doesn’t look like that in real life — though it would be rad if it did!
“Latter” Definition and Example
In addition to meaning the second (or last) thing in a two-item list, “latter” is used as an adjective to refer to the later part of something — the time period closer to the thing’s end. For example, “In the latter stages of quitting coffee (the weeks toward the end of the process), my caffeine-withdrawal headaches started to ease off, and I realized that it would actually be possible to continue without exploding.”
VIDEO: Former vs. Latter
“Former vs. Latter” in Sum
Now that you know the difference between “former” and “latter” and have learned how use them correctly through examples, sentences, and cartoon fun, what do you think? Might you begin to use these words in happiness — or do they sound too frilly for your taste? Do share!
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English who has been a public school educator since 2003, and an experienced Reiki practitioner since 2018. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009), TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010), and ReikiColors.com. Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!