English grammar help: last, latter and latest explained

It can be confusing when words in English have similar sounds and spellings but different meanings. ‘Last’, ‘latter’ and ‘latest’ are a perfect example. Even my university students have trouble with these words. Here are some quick examples to help you remember how and when to use them.

‘Last’ is fairly easy to understand. Put simply, ’last’ is the opposite of first.

–   “He came last at the Badminton tournament.”

–   “She was the last to arrive for dinner.”

It can also be used to discuss time in the past:

–   “I went to Shanghai last week.”

–   “Last month she went to summer school.”

Now let’s take a look at ‘latter’. It can be used to describe something occurring near the end, or belonging to the final stages. For example:

–   “Fashion became more colourful in the latter half of the decade.”

It can also be used to refer to the last item in a series:

Person A: “There are so many different opinions on the film. Some people say that the film was good, some say it was OK, terrible or even the worst thing ever.”

Person B: “I agree with the latter.“

This means that person B agrees with people who think that the film is the ‘worst thing’ they have ever seen.

‘Latest’ means most recent. It is often used to discuss news. For instance:

–   “Here is the latest news from China.”

Here are some more examples:

–   “The chairman was the latest to announce his resignation.”

–   “She’s interested in the latest music from Korea.”

When fully understood, these words are easy to differentiate from each other. With a little practice, you will get to a stage where you are comfortable using them in your everyday speech.