Have you ever seen \u201cformer\u201d and \u201clatter\u201d in writing and wondered what they mean? These words can seem confusing, and they probably sound old-fashioned to most people. But they are useful terms in formal writing, so check out our guide to find out how to use them.\nHow to Use \u201cFormer\u201d and \u201cLatter\u201d\nWe use \u201cformer\u201d and \u201clatter\u201d to distinguish between two things that have been previously mentioned. In particular, \u201cformer\u201d refers to the first of two things, while \u201clatter\u201d refers to the second:\nBetween cake and death, I prefer the former over the latter.\nAbove, we\u2019ve color-coded the terms to show which one refers to which. And, unsurprisingly, the speaker is here saying they prefer cake to death.\n\nWe\u2019ve also used both terms in the sentence above, but we can use either by itself. For instance, we could rewrite the previous example as follows:\nBetween cake and death, I prefer the former.\nHere, \u201cformer\u201d still refers to \u201ccake\u201d (i.e., the first of two options). But the \u201clatter\u201d is implicit. Alternatively, we could rephrase the sentence so that we focus on the second option:\nBetween cake and death, only a fool would choose the latter.\nTo remember which of these terms is which, keep the following in mind:\n\n \tFormer starts with the letter F, so it refers to the first of two things.\n \tLatter starts with the letter L, so it refers to the last of two things.\n\nLarger Lists or Groups\nSo if \u201cformer\u201d and \u201clatter\u201d refer to two things, what do you do when discussing more than two things? Some people use \u201clatter\u201d in this context:\nOut of carrots, broccoli, and turnips, I only eat the latter.\nHere, \u201clatter\u201d means \u201clast.\u201d And this is okay in informal writing. In formal writing, though, you should only use \u201cformer\u201d and \u201clatter\u201d with two things. And \u201cformer\u201d is never used to identify the first item in a list.\n\nBut to distinguish between items in a longer list in formal writing, you can use ordinal numbers. This is also clearer, as each item in the list will have a specific numbered position. For example:\nBoys are made of slugs, snails, and puppy dogs\u2019 tails. The first and third of these are for extra masculinity, while the second is for flavor.\n\nSummary: What Do \u201cFormer\u201d and \u201cLatter\u201d Mean?\nWe use \u201cformer\u201d and \u201clatter\u201d to distinguish between two things in a sentence:\n\n \tUse former when referring to the first of two things.\n \tUse latter when referring to the second of two things.\n\nKeep in mind, too, that these terms are not usually used with lists of three or more things. If you need to distinguish between items in a longer list, use ordinal numbers (e.g., first, second, third). And to make sure that your writing is error free, you can always get your work proofread.