Monday, July 2, 2012

Last or latest?

Last and latest are both superlative forms of the word late, but they do not have the same meaning:
  • Last means “final”. The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play. (He didn’t write any other after that and, being long dead, he won’t write any more).
  • Latest means “newest”, “most recent”. Dan Brown’s latest novel is The Lost Symbol. (That’s his newest novel, but not the last one, because he is alive and kicking, so he can still write more and he will probably do so).
Late also has two comparative forms: one is regular (later) and the other is irregular (latter). They cannot be used as synonyms either:
  • Later means “afterwards”. It is widely used as a connector of time and sequence along with words like: then, next, after that, etc.
  • Latter refers to the second of two things or people mentioned: I love my two cousins, George and Don, but the latter is clearly my favourite. In this example, “the latter” refers to the second cousin mentioned: Don. If we wanted to refer to George, we would use the term former, which means “the first of the above mentioned”.

The word late can be used as an adjective or an adverb:
  • adjective: She got married in her late twenties.
  • adverb: The birthday card arrived three days late.
There is another adverb derived from late: lately, which means “recently”: I haven’t heard from Peter lately. (Note that this adverb is usually used with a perfect tense).
Another adverb related to late is lastly, which is used to introduce the last in a list of things. I’ve got many things to do this weekend: first I'm going to the supermarket, secondly to the zoo, and lastly to the cinema.
For more information about the difference between adjectives and adverbs you can read this previous post.

  • Last but not least is used when mentioning the last person or thing of a group, in order to state that they are not less important than the others. And last but not least, I’d like to thank my parents for their help and support.
  • At (long) last: after much delay, finally. At last we’re home!
  • Last orders: the last opportunity for people to buy drinks in a pub before it closes. It’s mainly used in British English.
  • The day /week /month before last is the penultimate day, week or month.
  • The last straw is the last in a series of events that, when added to the others, makes the situation unbearable. It’s a variation of the Arabic proverb the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now you can do this exercise to check how much you have learnt.

Fancy another exercise? Choose the correct word.


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