What does the former mean

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In a nutshell

The former ... the latter and the third?

The nouns The former and The latter are usually used as auxiliary constructions to make it clear in which order one takes up something already mentioned: I like ice cream and cake. I prefer to eat the former in summer, the latter tastes better in winter. But you can also do analog Second, third or Fourth use?

At the former and latter it is originally about comparative formations too first and latest. The use of The former to designate the former goes back to the 17th century. With the pair of terms The former and The latter It has become common practice to refer to exactly two things, similar to what you do with "this" and "that" or with "one" and "the other". It is therefore not common to use this pair of terms for more than two things or people. So Not: At the meeting, Mr. Meier, Ms. Müller and Ms. Schmidt gave interesting presentations. The former spoke about social media, the latter had chosen digitization as the topic.

It is also incorrect - albeit in some colloquial terms - to expand the comparison to a list and from The former, the latter, the third etc. to speak - instead, constructions like "the first, second, third" can be used.

There are often uncertainties about upper and lower case letters. As a general rule, lower case letters are used for attributive use. This also applies when the former and latter refer to a more distant noun:

  • At the pop concert I liked the former band better than the latter [band].
  • I liked both bands at the pop concert. The former [band] played reggae, the latter [band] folk-pop.

On the other hand, capitalization is used when The former, the former, the former or The latter, the latter, the latter stand substantively on their own: I never said the former and I never meant the latter.

Julian von Heyl on June 5th, 2018 | Comments (5) | Visits: 51269

Section briefly explained:

The German language is riddled with pitfalls. Here we address selected problem cases and provide brief explanations and definitions of spelling, grammar and practical application.

Comments

1 Frank M

Hi Julian,

in the first part of your example above, shouldn't you correctly get there without a comparative? So:
At the pop concert I liked the first band better than the last [band].

Written by Frank M on 6/5/2018 1:18 PM

2 Julian von Heyl

@Frank
Both are actually possible here. With the first / last one has more of the chronological course of the evening in mind, while with the first / last one rather emphasizes the comparison of the bands.

Written by Julian von Heyl on 6/5/2018 4:09 PM

3 MK4

Hello julian,

You write: "Both are actually possible here. With the first / last one has more of the chronological course of the evening in mind, while with the former / the latter one emphasizes the comparison of the bands."
For once, I would spontaneously contradict you:
"I liked both bands at the pop concert. The former [band] played reggae, the latter [band] folk-pop."
In the case of "the former / the latter", I am of the opinion that the combination with the specific article is wrong.

Posted by MK4 on 6/19/2018 12:54 AM

4 Matthias Schreiber

Hello julian,

“I like ice cream and cake. I prefer the former in summer, the latter tastes better in winter. ''

and

“I liked both bands at the pop concert. The former [band] played reggae, the latter [band] folk-pop. ‟

contradict each other. In both cases, since there is a reference, I would write in lower case.
Only the “first”, “second” and “latter”, “third” etc. are not common.
Since practically there is always a reference without the mentioned incorrect list, the lower case should be correct in case of doubt.

Written by Matthias Schreiber on 9/4/18 12:21 PM

5 Heinz-Jürgen Sibbel

If something is unique, can there still be a comparative or even a superlative? Of course not.
Isn't it the same with the first? If someone or something comes first, can someone still come first?
I don't think so, and that's why I deliberately don't use this term, but write the first or the last.

regards

Written by Heinz-Jürgen Sibbel on 7/15/20 9:43 AM

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