Confused Words: Later, Latter

Which Is the Latter Word: Latter or Later?

by Owen Fourie

A book review on the Internet attracted my attention when I saw that the writer had used the word later instead of latter three times.

In each instance, two characters are mentioned, and the second character is called the later in further references to him:

  • The later is portrayed as over-ambitious and eager …
  • The later adopts him as a son.
  • The later prevails and wins.

There is such a word as latter, but it seems that some are not aware of its existence.

Here, we are not dealing with homophones. There are lists that identify these two words as such together with ladder, letter, and leader, but it must surely require appallingly bad enunciation for these five words to be classified as homophones.

Later and Latter

Let’s distinguish between later and latter and revive the proper use of both words.

An awareness of these two words will help you to avoid the embarrassing mistake made by the book reviewer mentioned earlier.


This word refers to something that is later in time or sequence—something that takes place after something else.

As an adjective, it can be used like this:

  • In the Table of Geological Periods, the Cenozoic Era, which began 66 million years ago, is later than the Mesozoic Era, which began 251 million years ago.
  • Comparing the works of Charles Dickens up to 1850 with his later writings, I tend to prefer what he wrote after 1850.

As an adverb, it can be used like this:

  • The Cenozoic Era came later than the Mesozoic Era.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was written later than A Tale of Two Cities.


This word is used to refer to the second of two items, and should be restricted to this use.

As an adjective, it can be used like this:

  • I have seen two film versions of Dracula: the one starring Christopher Lee in the title role, the other starring Gary Oldman; I prefer the latter version because it is closer to Bram Stoker’s novel, despite some interesting changes.
  • Contrary to my suggestion, she has decided to use the simplest of titles for the two parts of her book: the first part is called “The Problem,” and the second part is called “The Solution.” The latter part presents some astounding arguments for change.

As a noun, it can be used like this:

  • Of the two novels my friend has written, Sanity Unfair and Of Rice and Fen, the former is mediocre, but the latter is spellbinding. (The former is the first title mentioned here.)
  • Which is better? To see the film adaptation of a novel and then to read the original work or to read the novel first and then to see the movie? The wiser course is the latter because it gives you the advantage of being an informed critic of the film.

If you need to refer to the last person or thing in a list of three or more, do not use latter. Instead, use the last-named or the last-mentioned.

Let’s finish this article with a question: Given the choice between watching a movie and learning grammar, would you really choose the latter?


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with confused words or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips