‘The former and the latter’ is a useful linking device that you can use in many writing contexts (it’s quite formal, so people use it less often in Speaking).
I’ve also noticed that ‘the former and the latter’ is frequently used in the Reading AND Listening texts, so it’s really important that you learn how it works.
Once you’ve mastered the concept of ‘The former and the latter’, you’ll be able to use it to describe data (Academic Task 1) and refer to different points and arguments in Writing Task 2.
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The former and the latter example
Look at the extract below, which is taken from an IELTS Academic Reading about the nutmeg tree and its fruit:
‘The tree is thickly branched with dense foliage of tough, dark green oval leaves, and produces small, yellow, bell-shaped flowers and pale yellow pear-shaped fruits’.
‘Inside is a purple-brown shiny seed surrounded by a lacy red covering called an ‘aril’. These are the sources of the two spices nutmeg and mace, the former being produced from the dried seed and the latter from the aril’.
Now complete these two gapfill statements (one word only):
3. The _______ is used to produce nutmeg.
4. The covering known as the aril is used to produce _____________.
What does ‘the former and the latter’ mean?
The former = the first thing mentioned
The latter = the last thing mentioned
Why do people use ‘the former and the latter’?
Simply to avoid repetition.
It’s quite formal, and you can use it in your Writing Task 1 and Task 2 for the same purpose (see below).
This is taken from a Reading about spelling.
‘He asked me to write a book about correct spelling and why it matters. The former is easy to do. The latter, being a matter for debate, is less straightforward.’
True, False, Not Given?
- It is difficult to explain why correct spelling is important.
‘He asked me to write a book about 1. correct spelling and 2. why it matters’.
The former (1. correct spelling) is easy to do.
The latter (2. why spelling matters)… is less straightforward.
difficult = less straightforward
is important = it matters
How to use ‘the former and the latter’ in Writing
1. As an alternative to ‘respectively’ e.g.
Sales increased in both France and Germany, by 50% and 70% respectively.
Sales increased in both France and Germany, the former by 50% and the latter by 70%.
2. You can use ‘the latter half’ to mean the ‘second half’ e.g.:
Sales went up significantly in the latter half of the decade.
3. You can use it refer back to two options given in Task 2 e.g.
Solar power and tidal power are both suitable alternatives, but I favour the former/the latter.
Of these two options, the former is less expensive, while the latter is less risky.
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