17

I usually see "former and latter" as replacements for nouns:

The person in the right is young, the person in the left is old. The former is tall, the latter is short.

But can we apply them to plural nouns?

Those who in the right side are young, those who in the left side are old. The former are tall, the latter are short.

If we can use them in such case, which one should we use: "former" or "formers"?

  • 5
    Use former - former and latter are used as if they were nouns, but they're still adjectives, and adjectives do not have distinct plural forms. – StoneyB Dec 10 '14 at 17:57
15

Yes, the former and the latter can have plural antecedents, and plural agreement; and no, they do not change form to reflect this. You can find plenty of examples, in well-edited prose from each of the past several centuries, by Googling. For example, I just searched Google Books for "the former were", and here is the first hit:

[…] intergovernmental specialization agreements and jointly financed investment projects. The former were mainly in support of machine building and manufacturing more generally. The latter were principally designed to shore up the buoyant exchange of Soviet fuels and raw materials for Eastern European manufactured products. [link; emphasis mine]


Edited to add: By the way, I should mention that both of your examples have some problems, but in the first sentence. "The person in the right" and "the person in the left" should be "the person on the right" and "the person on the left". (With a very specific appropriate context, it could be made possible — if a photograph depicts two cars, for example, you could potentially refer to one car as "the right" and one as "the left", and then each person would be "in" one of these — but otherwise it would not be natural.) Similarly, "those who in the right/left side" should be "those on the right/left side" (or perhaps "those who are on the right/left side", but this implies that being on one side or the other is a more significant property than simply a matter of current position).

2

Former and latter can be used for plural as StoneyB suggests, they are still adjectives.

Another way, maybe as a non-native, I practice is

Those who are in the right side are young, those how are in the left side are old. The former ones are tall and the latter ones are short.

This will calm our brain from having (mis)understanding that 'former' and 'latter' can be used only for singular! :)

  • The use and non-use of ones vary dramatically across different forms of English, so I don't want to speak categorically, but -- personally, I find your example very awkward for some reason. (I think that it's because in my dialect former and latter are slightly formal, whereas definite ones is slightly colloquial, so they don't go well together? I'm not sure.) – ruakh Dec 11 '14 at 7:44
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    I'm not sure what you mean by "too common"? Do you just mean "very common"? (By the way, the example you link to actually also sounds awkward to me, but for a different reason: I can't tell whether it's referring to the latter two or the latter three.) – ruakh Dec 11 '14 at 7:57
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    That example doesn't seem to be by a native speaker? (Or if it is, then it's in a very bizarre telegraphic style. Note, for example, the missing the's before "car rear-view mirror market" and "Chinese rear-view mirror market".) – ruakh Dec 11 '14 at 8:05
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    I'm trying to go through Google Books hits for "the former ones" to see if any sound natural to me, and I find that the vast majority of hits are either >100 years old, or else using a somewhat different sense of "former". So I think I'm justified in saying that "the former ones" (in this sense) is not common in the major English-speaking countries, but it apparently used to be, so it would make sense that it might still be common in India (which has preserved a number of usages that are now dated in the U.S. and U.K.). – ruakh Dec 11 '14 at 8:13
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    Well, I am a native speaker, but even so, I do the exact same thing as you -- I describe the usages I'm familiar with, and if someone with a different experience sees my answer, I hope that they'll comment (or post their own answer). There is no harm, and much benefit, to making readers aware of the diversity of English usage. I did not mean my comments as criticism, and I hope you didn't take them that way; I just wanted to add a perspective from a different dialect (or at least a different idiolect). – ruakh Dec 11 '14 at 8:33

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