‘Former' vs 'Latter': What's the Difference?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on January 13, 2023

'Former' vs 'latter': what do these two words mean? And when should you use them? That's what you're about to find out.

In short, 'former' is the first item in a list, and 'latter' is the second - or last - item.

Difference Between 'Former' vs 'Latter'

'Former' and 'latter' are both nouns that are used to refer to items in a sequence. Usually, that's a sequence of two things, although it is indeed acceptable to use the words in lists of more than two things, despite what you might hear.

It's much more common, however, to see them refer to the former (and by that, I mean sequences of two things).

Though you can use these words in speech, they are much better used in writing. The first reason for that is they are pretty formal. The second reason is that when you're listening to someone speak, you can't refer back to the two items they listed, so if you weren't paying attention or have a short memory, you won't know what they're referring to. When you're reading, however, you can easily check the previous sentence to ensure you understand the writer's intended meaning.

Let's take a deeper dive into the meaning of each word.

Top tip! As you'll see in the examples later, you should always use the article 'the' in front of either word.

'Former' Definition

'Former' comes from Old English forma "first," Which makes it pretty easy to figure out what it means. 'Former' is the first item in a list.

So if you list two things in one sentence, in the next, instead of repeating words you've just used, you can refer to the first item as "the former." It will increase the quality of your writing.

'Former' can also be used as an adjective to refer to a thing of the past.

'Latter' Definition

'Latter' also comes from Old English, lætra "slower," comparative of læt "late." So yes, the latter item is the latter one.

Just like 'former,' 'latter' can also be used as an adjective to refer to when something happens. Specifically, in this case, to something that happens later or as a synonym for "subsequent."

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Former'

You might be wondering how to pronounce the word 'former.' If so, you might want to check out the phonetic spelling, as per the International Phonetic Alphabet. It goes like this:


And it sounds like this:


Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Latter'

And what about the word 'latter?' How should you pronounce that? Here's how it's spelled phonetically:


And here's how it sounds:


Using 'Former' vs 'Latter' in a Sentence

Now let's take a look at both words in context. Want to know how you should use them in a sentence? Read on. Let's start with 'former.'

I love both tomato soup and leek soup, but if I had to pick one as my favorite, it would have to be the former.

My former husband and I are still friends.

David and Jill both had solid arguments, but the former had the rest of the team on his side.

She's a former cheerleader.

You've got two options: to give up or keep fighting. The former is not an option.

And now for some examples using 'latter.'

What's wrong? You've seemed off for the latter part of the evening.

Between the two options you've offered me, I was hoping we could opt for the latter.

He spent the latter part of his life traveling and living every day to the fullest.

Of the two houses we've visited, I far prefer the latter.

I think the latter option seems most likely.

Concluding Thoughts for 'Former' vs 'Latter'

So there you have it; 'former' means first in a sequence, and 'latter' means last. If in doubt, just look at the first letter of each word. 'F' stands for "first," and 'l' stands for "last."

And if you want to learn about more confusing words, feel free to peruse our blog, where we've covered many more.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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