The Easy Explanation
“Later” refers to time and rhymes with “skater”: We decided to go to Hawaii at a later date.
“Latter” refers to the second of two options mentioned and rhymes with “flatter”: Ice cream or frozen yogurt? I’d prefer the latter.
When to Use Later vs. Latter
These words mean entirely different thing. It’s simply the similar spelling that makes them commonly confused.
The word “later” (rhymes with “skater”) is an adverb that refers to time in some manner. It means at that time in the future (as in a later date).
The word “latter” (rhymes with “flatter”) often refers to the second of two options mentioned (as in the latter choice). It can also mean a subsequent time (as in latter stages) or toward the end (as in their latter days).
Examples of Later vs. Latter
- The country later became an economic powerhouse. (meaning time)
- He ordered tea or coffee—the latter of which was on special. (meaning the second of two options)
- The mold increased more dramatically in the latter stages of the experiment. (meaning a subsequent time)
- The latter days of life need not be painful. (meaning toward the end)
How to Remember the Difference
Plug in rough synonyms to see which is correct. If the sentence still makes sense with the word “after” replacing the word in question in the sentence, the correct word is “later.” If the sentence still makes sense with the word “second” as a replacement, the correct word is “latter.”
Theory Into Practice: Which Is Which?
Is the underlined word correct? See if you can tell.
- When asked if he would rather walk the plank or be marooned on a tropical island, Mr. Smith chose the latter.
Right: This means the second of two choices, so “latter” is correct.
- They later regretted that they hadn’t chosen to eat the cake.
Right: This refers to time, so “later” is correct.