the former/the latter/the last-named

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Dmitry_86, Feb 20, 2009.

  1. Dmitry_86

    Dmitry_86 Senior Member

    Dear forum members!!!

    If I mention two things (two nouns, for instance) I may consequently refer to them by so-called "words-substitutes": "one", "the former", "the latter". For example:

    Example: I have been doing different summer and winter sports for quite a long time. The former (summer sports) encompass football, basketball, etc, the latter (winter sports) involve skiing, skating,etc.

    Now imagine the following similar context but containing more than two things to be listed:

    Example: Children, adults and senior citizens live in the city

    My questions are:

    1) How can I refer to "children"? Is it possible to say the "former"?
    2) How can I refer to "adults"?
    3) How can I refer to "senior citizens"? Is it possible to say the "last-named" or "the latter"? Which option among these two is correct?

    Thanks in advance
     
  2. L'Homme Inconnu

    L'Homme Inconnu Senior Member

    Back o' Beyond
    English English
    Hi Dmitry!

    In my opinion, you'd rerfer to the children as "the former", the senior citizens as "the latter", and adults as just "adults".

    You could use the "first", "second" and "third" to get the same effect.

    Note: Example: I have been doing different summer and winter sports for quite a long time. The former (summer sports) encompassES football, basketball, etc, the latter (winter sports) involveS / INCLUDES skiing, skating,etc.

    I hope this helps!
     
  3. candy-man

    candy-man Senior Member

    London/Madrid
    Polish/Poland
    I would say:

    Children, adults and senior citizens live in the city. The former two ones and the latter live in the city.

    What do you think?
     
  4. L'Homme Inconnu

    L'Homme Inconnu Senior Member

    Back o' Beyond
    English English

    This would work, but omit the word "ones", so it would read "the former two and the latter..."
     
  5. candy-man

    candy-man Senior Member

    London/Madrid
    Polish/Poland
    Got it :) Thank you.
     
  6. L'Homme Inconnu

    L'Homme Inconnu Senior Member

    Back o' Beyond
    English English
    If you are saying that children, adults and senior citizens live in the city, it'd be better to say:

    Children, adults and senior citizens all live in the city.

    Unless all three are mentioned in the previous sentence, that is, for example:

    "You can split society into three groups: children, adults and senior citizens. All three groups live in the city."

    Or:

    "You can split society into three groups: children, adults and senior citizens. The former live in the countryside, the latter two (adults and senior citizens) in the cities."
     
  7. candy-man

    candy-man Senior Member

    London/Madrid
    Polish/Poland
    Hahahah.Your creativity has struck me :) Honestly I like the former sentence better: Children, adults and senior citizens all live in the city.
     
  8. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    You should only use former/latter when there is no chance of confusion to reader and it does not slow down the reader forcing them to look back to figure out what you are referring to.

    In all other situations it is better to either repeat the words or use a synonym.

    In most cases when you have three choices it will force the reader to re-read the previous sentence and that would work against your goal of effective communication.

    In this case writing out the categories will be far easier to comprehend.

    Children, adults and senior citizens live in the city. The children have access to play grounds, the adults have access to entertainment, and the seniors have access to elder care.

    Compare to:

    Children, adults and senior citizens live in the city. The first have access to play grounds; the last have access to elder care; and the adults have access to entertainment.

    I would identify one of the groups and use former/latter or first/last. But even so this reads slower than identifying all of the subjects.
     
  9. Dmitry_86

    Dmitry_86 Senior Member

    Thank you very much!!! Still I would like to know how "last-named" is used in such contexts if used at all. For example, in Lingvo it is written that it is recommended to use "the last-named" when the number of items (objects) is more than two. For this reason, in my sentence "the last-named" must mean "senior citizens"; nevertheless none of you have approved of this alternative. Does it mean that such substitute is wrong?
     
  10. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I use latter/former when it adds to the impact of the statement.

    For example:

    He worked hard and drank hard, though he did more of the latter than the former.


    He worked hard and drank hard, though he did more drinking than working.

    To me the second version is not as strong as the first.

    If it does not add any dramatic impact to the writing I would say you should avoid that construction.

    I cannot think of a situation where "last-named" adds impact. I would avoid it unless you feel it does.
     
  11. Dmitry_86

    Dmitry_86 Senior Member

    How about the following original sentence "Then, midway between the throne and the four living creatures, I saw a Lamb standing among the Elders. He looked as if He had been offered in sacrifice, and He had seven horns and seven eyes. The last-named are the seven Spirits of God, and have been sent far and wide into all the earth." Here the word "last-named" replaces "seven eyes". But according to the logic of using "the former-the latter" I may put "the latter" instead of "the last-named" and they will be interchangeable. What is your opinion?
     
  12. word_up

    word_up Senior Member

    I use latter/former when it adds to the impact of the statement.

    Still, this doesn't answer Dmitry's question referring to more than two persons/items/etc.
    As various sources say, it is not advisable to use former and latter in such cases, e.g. thefreedictionary.com/latter includes such a note:

    "Usage: The latter should only be used to refer to the second of two items: many people choose to go by hovercraft rather than use the ferry, but I prefer the latter. The last of three or more items can be referred to as the last-named"

    I must say am also confused here, since to me latter can only be used when there are two of the things referred to, nonetheless I've seen an opinion of a English-native translator, who uses latter to refer to the last thing mentioned in a sequence of e.g. five.

    Guess this must be idiomatic, though maybe not correct.
     
  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    OED
    5. a. That has been mentioned second of two, last of a group of more than two, or at or near the end of a preceding clause or sentence: opposed to former.
    1957 B. & C. EVANS Dict. Contemp. Amer. Usage 267/2 Latter is the older of the two comparative forms... Its chief function is as a contrast to former. The contrast implies that some group has been separated into two parts, but more than two elements may be involved. We may say the three latter events.

    I find that a bit surprising because I would have said that "latter" could only be used with two.
    The OED is not so generous with former:
    b. The first mentioned of two; opposed to latter.
     
  14. word_up

    word_up Senior Member

    That's informative ;) - so even dictionaries do not agree.

    On a side note, the example "three latter events" still suggests separation in two parts (e.g. three former and three latter events form two groups of 3) - the way the preceding definition is written doesn't suggest clearly that it is separation into more than two parts which is also possible, or just many elements separated into two groups.
     
  15. wsiabato Junior Member

    Lisbon
    Spanish - Colombia
    Dear all,
    It is quite clear the use of latter and former regarding two events/nouns previously mentioned and defined. It is also quite common to find such structure in different academic articles and books. However, here is what the Oxford dictionary says about latter/former vs. first/last....

    Despite the broad use of former/latter, regarding good English style, and considering I am writing academic journal articles, my question is: should I really forgot at all the former/latter structure and exclusively use first/last?

    Thanks.

    WS
     
  16. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    No, definitely not. If there are only two things under discussion, use former and latter. Just because some people chose to mangle the use of perfectly good words, there is no reason to follow them. In any case, the defective usage is not to drop former and latter, but is to misuse former when it should be first, and latter when it should be last (ie more than two things being considered).
     
  17. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Logically, like all comparatives, former and latter can only relate to two items. Otherwise it would be formest and lattest! :D

    But seriously, I can't think of any examples (except for Packard's #10) where these two words are useful, unless to shorten a very long phrase.

    The example "Then... I saw a Lamb standing among the Elders. He looked as if He had been offered in sacrifice, and He had seven horns and seven eyes. The last-named are the seven Spirits of God..." seems to me entirely ambiguous, since the seven eyes haven't been named as such, but mentioned merely; which leaves the reader to wonder whether the last-named is He (the Lamb) or the Elders.

    If in doubt, specify. If that means repeating a word, repeat it -- there's no extra charge!
     
  18. wsiabato Junior Member

    Lisbon
    Spanish - Colombia
    Ok Mr. Bradford and Mr. Nice Mod,
    Thanks for your valuable opinion. As a conclusion, I will continue using latter/former for two specific and well identified nouns/events, and I will use "the first/last" when I want to identify the first or the last element in a three or more list elements. For eaxmple, is the following sentence right:

    These pieces of software include basic but reliable capabilities for spatio-temporal analysis, querying capabilities for periods and instants, database managing for historical data, and true dynamic visualization of features; the last improving the typical and not very useful approach for animation of temporal and historical data.

    WS
     
  19. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    OK, now tell me whether the last means features or true dynamic visualization of features. Do you see the problem?

    Clarity, clarity! Repeat either this visualization or these features.

    (And use more full stops and shorter sentences. It really helps.)
     
  20. wsiabato Junior Member

    Lisbon
    Spanish - Colombia
    Mr. Bradford,
    I want to refer to "and true dynamic visualization of features", which is the last capability. I do not try to refer only to visualization or features. For the sake of clarity, should I rewrite the sentence adding listing guides, e.g,

    These pieces of software include basic but reliable capabilities for (i) spatio-temporal analysis, (ii) querying for periods and instants, (iii) database managing for historical data, and (iv) true dynamic visualization of features; the last improving the typical and not very useful approach for animation of temporal and historical data.

    How can I clearly refer to the entire phrase? Should I write a new sentence?

    WS
     
  21. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Yes, your solution is one possibility. Or you might avoid putting in "i, ii, iii..." if you begin:

    "These pieces of software include basic but reliable capabilities for four things/four purposes: ..." (The English love this kind of phrase.) Then your ending could be: "...visualization of features. This last purpose improves the typical ..."

    In short, do anything to avoid sending your reader backwards to check on what you meant. It's not polite, and politeness is the essence of good English style.
     
  22. wsiabato Junior Member

    Lisbon
    Spanish - Colombia
    Great! Thanks a lot for your advice, help and time. I will keep it in mind.

    WS
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2012
  23. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hullo, wsi.

    Isn't there anything you can do to improve the readibility of the sentence starting " the last improving the typical ...". Sometimes finite moods help a lot.

    GS
     
  24. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Given the definition of latter in post #13,
    then

    "These pieces of software include basic but reliable capabilities for spatio-temporal analysis; querying for periods and instants; database managing for historical data, and true dynamic visualization of features; the last improving the typical and not very useful approach for animation of temporal and historical data."

    becomes

    "These pieces of software include basic but reliable capabilities for spatio-temporal analysis; querying for periods and instants; database managing for historical data, and true dynamic visualization of features; this latter feature improves the typical and not very useful approach for animation of temporal and historical data."
     
  25. wsiabato Junior Member

    Lisbon
    Spanish - Colombia
    Thanks for your opinion Paul,
    I agree with your proposal, it certainly makes sense. However, my initial sentence was quite odd and confusing. Please check #19 and #20 to see it clearer. I was trying to referring to the last phrase and not only features. I think what Mr. Bradford suggested is a lot clearer, please check #21.

    Thanks for your time.

    WS
     

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