How writing in the past could I refer to the current wife of a man who had been married twice?

Could I simply use current, because it's understandable that I am not referring to the date of the writer but the date of the character...?

Should I use "latter", the antonym for "former", instead?

E.g. Jim had been married twice. His former wife was a school teacher, and the latter was a nurse.

Does it sound right?

  • 1
    Why do you think that "current" is incorrect? Is Jim still married to the nurse? – Catija Dec 19 '17 at 21:51
  • 3
    With regard to your title, it's rare for "actual" to mean "current". "Actual" usually means "real", "true", "authentic". – rjpond Dec 19 '17 at 21:58
  • 6
    No... if someone said "actual wife", I'd assume that they were lying about who they were married to ... "I'm Nurse... Jim's actual wife... I don't know who this impostor is." – Catija Dec 19 '17 at 22:04
  • 1
    I found in some dictionaries examples where "actual" was said to mean "current", but they were all in specialised or semi-specialised financial contexts, and in every case "actual" could equally well be understood as meaning "real" (since it was being contrasted with "estimated", "projected", "future" - and therefore inherently uncertain -, etc). – rjpond Dec 19 '17 at 22:07
  • 4
    @QOTSA as rjpond remarks, "actual" means "real", but it is a false friend in a couple of languages. For example in German, the near-homophone "aktuell" (sounds like "actual") means "current", same in French with the word "actuel(le)". – rexkogitans Dec 20 '17 at 7:47

You have a couple of issues.

You're calling the nurse a "current" wife when you don't really know if that's the case.

Someone who is "currently" a spouse to someone means that they are still married. In that case, you wouldn't write the sentence in the past tense at all:

Jim has been married twice. His former wife was a school teacher and his current one is/was a nurse.

When you say "had been" it implies that he is not currently married at all. The more common choice here, since there is no "current" spouse, is to use numbers:

Jim had been married twice. His first wife was a school teacher and his second was a nurse.

  • Actually, by using past perfect I meant to point out that I have not knowledge of his present marital status. Thereby, I wanted to use "current" as present tense mixed within past tense speaking/writing. I assume I did it wrong. Some do it, but they know how to, and when to, for sounding intelligible. Thanks for your answer, @Catija! – user65007 Dec 19 '17 at 22:15
  • 2
    You can't really do that... if you really want to "point out" that you have no knowledge of his current status, you have to say so... "but I'm not sure if they're still married.". – Catija Dec 19 '17 at 22:18
  • The use of the past perfect doesn't imply that he is no longer married at the time of the speaking. He might have gotten married three more times since then, and be married to his fifth wife now. As of the time referenced in the past, he had had two wives. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 20 '17 at 11:40
  • 2
    @Catija: I have been married twice does not necessarily imply that my second marriage is over, even if people might tend to infer that I'm twice divorced (or a widower, or a combination). – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 20 '17 at 13:47
  • 2
    @Tᴚoɯɐuo upvote for correct use of imply and infer – Kevin Dec 20 '17 at 16:21

Catija has done a good job answering your question; however, I feel like someone should elaborate on how you aren't using former and latter in the standard way:

Jim had been married twice. His former wife was a school teacher, and the latter was a nurse.

Normally, former and latter refers to two previously-named items. You imply two previous spouses when you say "twice," but they aren't listed or named. Catija fixed that by changing latter to current, but it might be worth pointing out how the sentences could be restructured such that you could use former and latter.

For example, you could say something like this:

Jim has two ex-wives, Jane and Linda. The former was a schoolteacher and the latter is a nurse.

In that example, former refers to the first of two in a list (Jane), while latter refers to the second (Linda).

These don't always need to refer to people; I could say something like:

I have two hobbies, skydiving and stamp collecting. The former is much more dangerous than the latter.

But I wouldn't (or shouldn't) say:

I have two hobbies; the former is much more dangerous than the latter.

because the hobbies haven't been explicitly named, so there is nothing for former and latter to point back to.

  • 3
    +1 for pointing out that "latter" is the antonym for a different usage of "former" than what the OP wants. – Soron Dec 20 '17 at 5:31
  • 2
    -1 because "former" and "latter" work perfectly fine for chronology; they are not limited to order of appearance in a list. In fact, making a list creates ambiguity, because the reader then is not clear whether the listing order matches chronological order. – Ben Voigt Dec 20 '17 at 7:13
  • 1
    @BenV - Two points: (1) I was careful to avoid saying that the OP's usage was "wrong," "incorrect," or "ungrammatical," instead pointing out that is was not "the standard way" the terms are "normally" used. (2) As for that added ambiguity, it's only an issue if it's important to what the speaker is trying to say. I don't claim my sentence about Jane and Linda is an equivalent to, or conveys the same information as, the original. Rather, it was just a convenient way to show the learner how we see former and latter used most often. – J.R. Dec 20 '17 at 22:57

We interviewed him in the 1990s. His first wife was a high school teacher and his then current wife was the mayor of San Antonio.

The word then can be used adverbially to modify (temporally situate) adjective current: "at-that-time current".

You can also say "his wife at the time", as other answers have said.

  • 1
    This answer would be more helpful if it actually explained what it's saying rather than simply being an example of use. – Catija Dec 20 '17 at 16:25
  • 1
    It's obvious to you, sure... and me... but you're on a site for people who aren't native speakers of English and who need help understanding a concept. This is not an answer. – Catija Dec 20 '17 at 16:40
  • 1
    @Catija: Still, there's nothing to explain except perhaps the use of then as a modifier. I will add that. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 20 '17 at 16:41
  • 1
    I think the bit missing from this answer is that "then current" at least very strongly implies that conditions have changed (i.e. that his "then current" wife is not his wife now, for whatever reason). It doesn't work nearly as well if we don't know the subject's present marital status. As an aside, "then" is also sometimes used alone with this same meaning, almost always with relationships, as in "she divorced her then husband when she found him in bed with his then mistress, whom he subsequently married" (sometimes hyphenated, then-wife etc.). – 1006a Dec 20 '17 at 17:51
  • 1
    @1006a: Again, I think this is paying too much attention to non-essential aspects of the question. The OP, as I understand the question, wants to refer to something that was current as of a particular time in the past. There is nothing in the question that should make us be concerned about the present. That said, I could say "My then current wife, to whom I am still happily married.* – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 20 '17 at 18:07

Generally to refer to 'current' in the past you could use "at the time". This also makes clear whether Jim is/was still married.

Jim had been married twice. His wife at the time was a nurse, while his former wife had been a school teacher.


Jim had been married twice. His former wife was a school teacher, the latter was a nurse, but he was now single again.


I like to keep things simple :

Jim had been married twice. First to a schoolteacher then to a nurse.