Between two options, which does "former" refer to and which does "latter"?



For example:

James was talking to Karl, the former being much smarter than the latter.

Is James the former or the latter? What is the rule?

Matt Ellen

Posted 2013-01-23T21:07:52.413

Reputation: 2 467


I'm not sure why this question was asked here, when the answer is so easily and readily found.

– J.R. – 2013-01-26T10:23:40.883

@J.R. It's asked here because I don't want to have to keep referring to a dictionary every time I want to know whether to use former or latter. If I know the rule then that is a lot easier to remember than some dictionary definition. – Matt Ellen – 2013-01-26T12:53:49.803

If that's the case, then I think your question would have been much improved had you elaborated about how you often confuse the two, and are looking for a handy, memorable way to keep the two straight. As it is, you've simply asked us to clarify something very basic. Notice, too, that the results I linked to (like this one and this one) are not dictionary definitions, but easily found mnemonic tricks with detailed explanations.

– J.R. – 2013-01-26T14:53:55.003



Basically: "former" = "first item in a pair", "latter" = "second item in a pair".

So, in your case, "the former" is James, while "the latter" is Karl.


Posted 2013-01-23T21:07:52.413

Reputation: 3 733


The mnemonic I learned in school was (F)ormer is (F)irst and (L)atter is (L)ast, so James is the former and Karl is the latter.

Kit Z. Fox

Posted 2013-01-23T21:07:52.413

Reputation: 1 026


"Former" comes before, and "latter" comes later.

barbara beeton

Posted 2013-01-23T21:07:52.413

Reputation: 2 697

4Except when you're asking about the latter and the former, in which case the former comes later, and the latter comes before. ;^) – J.R. – 2013-01-26T11:31:57.313

@J.R. -- +1 for the wink. I was, of course, trying to tie the pronunciations, but you've got me on the positioning aspect. – barbara beeton – 2013-01-26T13:27:58.727