Old English lætra "slower," comparative of læt "late" (see late (adj.)). Sense of "second of two" first recorded 1550s. The modern later is a formation from mid-15c.

If you can’t decide between seeing a movie or waiting until you’ve read the book first, take my advice and go with the latter. If you choose the former, you will usually regret it. 

Sentences like this confused me when I was a young reader. What the heck is the latter ? T he former ? Those weren’t among the options! In time, I learned what the writer was talking about, but it caused me some unnecessary discombobulation in the meantime. I write this post in hope of helping you avoid any such discombobulation¹.

It’s simple. Former means “the first of two” and latter means “the second of two.” Notice that you should use these terms when speaking of only two previously mentioned items. If the options include three or more, former and latter do not apply.

Old English lætra "slower," comparative of læt "late" (see late (adj.)). Sense of "second of two" first recorded 1550s. The modern later is a formation from mid-15c.


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