Are erstwhile and former interchangeable?

  • Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Are erstwhile and former interchangeable?
    In meaning, yes. In register, no. Erstwhile is what some dictionaries call "literary". You wouldn't use it in everyday speech or writing.
    If you want to be really obscure, you can use whilom - WordReference.com Dictionary of English :)
    You need a comma after President.
    I wouldn't say that. It works both with and without. With, it means Obama, the man who used to be President. Without, it means the man who used to be President Obama.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    What's odd it the "the": "Former president Obama" would need no comma and is vastly more common than your suggested use of "erstwhile," which would sound so odd that it would be downright confusing. I would wonder if this was not intended as some sort of slight or insult.
     

    goldencypress

    Senior Member
    India - Malayalam
    What's odd it the "the": "Former president Obama" would need no comma and is vastly more common than your suggested use of "erstwhile," which would sound so odd that it would be downright confusing. I would wonder if this was not intended as some sort of slight or insult.
    No slight or insult intebdei.
     

    goldencypress

    Senior Member
    India - Malayalam
    Indeed. Mind you, all we were given in this noun phrase. What we really need is to see it used in a complete sentence, with context.
    Here's the context
    The former / erstwhile President Obama doesn't approve of the current President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
     

    Barque

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    The former president, Barack Obama, doesn't...
    Former President Obama doesn't...
    Barack Obama, erstwhile president (of the USA), doesn't...

    Like the others, I prefer "former".


     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    I've always thought that "erstwhile" is different to "former".
    "Erstwhile" tells me that something was the present situation at a time in the past that we are talking about.

    E.g. When the Panama canal was built, the erstwhile US President, Theodore Roosevelt, was a driving force of the project.
    That tells me that TR was driving it during his term, not as a post-White House activity.
    .
     
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    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    When the Panama canal was built, the erstwhile president, Theodore Roosevelt, was a driving force of the project.
    That looks strange to me. In that sentence I would have used the adjective "then" in place of "erstwhile".

    Indeed, your version suggests that he was already an ex-president at the time.
     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Indeed, your version suggests that he was already an ex-president at the time.
    I may be slow today, but I have difficulty understanding how you can interpret :
    "Erstwhile" tells me that something was the present situation at a time in the past that we are talking about.

    E.g. When the Panama canal was built, the erstwhile US President, Theodore Roosevelt, was a driving force of the project.
    That tells me that TR was driving it during his term, not as a post-White House activity.
    as suggesting that he was already an ex-president at the time.
    .
     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Erstwhile -- what a pretentious word! Most people would either not understand you or would think you are showing off. :)
    There's a difference between understanding it (*) in your reading and using it to your friends. I believe the experts talk about "active vocabulary" and "passive vocabulary". :p ;)


    (*) EDIT: Which seems to be exactly what the OP wants to do in this thread.
    .
     
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    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I may be slow today, but I have difficulty understanding how you can interpret :
    Part 1: "Erstwhile" tells me that something was the present situation at a time in the past that we are talking about.
    Part 2: E.g. When the Panama canal was built, the erstwhile US President, Theodore Roosevelt, was a driving force of the project.
    Part 3: That tells me that TR was driving it during his term, not as a post-White House activity.
    as suggesting that he was already an ex-president at the time.
    .
    Then let me explain.
    I'm not interpreting part 1 or part 3 that way. I'm just saying that if I were faced with part 2 on its own, without knowing that Roosevelt's presidency coincided with the building of the canal, then yes, I would interpret it that way, because I interpret erstwhile as meaning the same as former.

    If you were faced with the same sentence, but using former instead of erstwhile, would you not also assume that he was a former president at the time?
     
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