What is the former and what is the latter?

Q. What does it mean when someone says “the former” or “the latter”?

Adam answers:

If you are discussing two related things, the first one mentioned is the former and the second is the latter.

For example, here is a possible conversation:

“I saw Dan last night.”

“Dan McCoy or Dan Stearns?”

“The latter.”

In this example the speaker is letting the other person know he saw Dan Stearns by saying “the latter”, or the last of the names mentioned. If this speaker had said “the former”, he would have been talking about Dan McCoy.

If you have 3 or more items being talked about, you can not use former or latter; it is only to discuss a pair of items. Also, note the spelling of “latter” is not “ladder.”