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former

1
[ fawr-mer ]
/ ˈfɔr mər /
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See synonyms for: former / formers on Thesaurus.com

adjective
preceding in time; prior or earlier: during a former stage in the proceedings.
past, long past, or ancient: in former times.
preceding in order; being the first of two: Our former manufacturing process was too costly.
being the first mentioned of two (distinguished from latter): The former suggestion was preferred to the latter.
having once, or previously, been; erstwhile: a former president.
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Origin of former

1
First recorded in 1125–75; Middle English, equivalent to forme (Old English forma “first”) + -er -er4. Cf. foremost

Other definitions for former (2 of 2)

former2
[ fawr-mer ]
/ ˈfɔr mər /

noun
a person or thing that forms or serves to form.
a pupil in a particular form or grade, especially in a British secondary school: fifth formers.

Origin of former

2
First recorded in 1300–50, former is from the Middle English word fourmer.See form, -er1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

FORMER VS. LATTER

What’s the difference between former and latter?

Using the terms former and latter is a somewhat formal way to differentiate between items mentioned in a set or list without actually naming them. Former is used to indicate the first item mentioned, while latter is used to indicate the second item.

Both words can be used as an adjective or a noun. In either case, they are both usually preceded by the.

Here’s an example of an adjective use: When offered a choice between shorter hours and higher pay, most survey respondents chose the former option. 

In this example, the former option refers to shorter hours, because that’s the item that was mentioned first.

Here’s an example of a noun use: I enjoy both vanilla and chocolate ice cream, but I prefer the latter. 

In this example, the latter refers to chocolate ice cream, because that’s the one that was mentioned second.

Remember, using former and latter can sound a bit formal (and might even be confusing to people who aren’t familiar with the terms). A less formal (and potentially clearer) way to rephrase the former of the two examples would be to say When offered a choice between shorter hours and higher pay, most survey respondents chose shorter hours. 

To remember the difference, remember that latter sounds like (and is related to) the word later—so the latter item is the one that was mentioned later.

Former and latter are sometimes both used in the same sequence.

Here’s an example of former and latter used correctly in the same sentence.

Example: The report presented two alternative plans: the former would be easier to implement; the latter would be less expensive.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between former and latter.

Quiz yourself on former vs. latter!

Should former or latter be used in the following sentence?

The study found that most participants chose the _____ option simply because it was the last thing they heard.

How to use former in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for former (1 of 2)

former1
/ (ˈfɔːmə) /

adjective (prenominal)
belonging to or occurring in an earlier timeformer glory
having been at a previous timea former colleague
denoting the first or first mentioned of twoin the former case
near the beginning
noun
the former the first or first mentioned of two: distinguished from latter

British Dictionary definitions for former (2 of 2)

former2
/ (ˈfɔːmə) /

noun
a person or thing that forms or shapes
electrical engineering a tool for giving a coil or winding the required shape, sometimes consisting of a frame on which the wire can be wound, the frame then being removed
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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