I am teaching my 7 year old daughter to speak English, and we came across the word "penultimate" meaning next-to-last. After describing to her the meaning, she tried to use it in a sentence less than an hour later: she asked me to pick her up, and I said "last time" to which she replied "penultimate time" in English.

Only now do I realize that is the reason that she kept asking me to pick her up!

To me this doesn't sound right. Is it proper to request "Pick me up for the penultimate time"?

  • It's a grammatically valid sentence, and a refreshing change from the typical "one more time Daddy!".
    – JMB
    Sep 30 '14 at 17:00
  • 1
    It has always bugged me that BMW advertises "The Ultimate Driving Machine" every year, and then comes out with a new model the next year.
    – The Photon
    Sep 30 '14 at 17:03

To me this doesn't sound right. Is it proper to request "Pick me up for the penultimate time"?

When you are referring to a series of events and you refer to the next to last (or: last but one), then penultimate is proper and correct. If you are a child learning new words, it is fantastic to be experimenting saying penultimate. But she must remember that it's real meaning refers to the actual next-to-last time. There can not be repeated penultimate times, unless one more event is regularly added to the series.

Penultimate, once learned, is a great word. (I remember the first time I saw and learned it, and I was a teenager.) I would just take care not to overuse it. If your seven-year-old is using penultimate now, then she will probably have an enormous vocabulary when she is seventeen!

So, the short answer is Yes! It is "proper" (better: correct) if she is really referring to the actual next-to-last time in a series of events. Or of she is just having fun using it.

  • Yes, she followed it up with "Pick me up for the last time", which of course I did! That was the end of it.
    – dotancohen
    Sep 30 '14 at 18:08
  • @dotancohen I read this story and had a quiet chuckle. Your daughter is a perceptive and intelligent child.
    – Damien H
    Sep 30 '14 at 23:18

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