37

When should I use "last" and "latest"?

I found two examples:

  • What was the last book you read?
  • Karen was always up to date on the latest fashions

It seems both mean "the most recent". Can we use both with this meaning?

37

The difference is in the future of the sentence.

  • Last implies nothing else will follow. It's the last, and after this it is finished.
  • Latest implies that it is the last to date, which means there could be more to follow.

The examples in J.R.'s post fit the case:

they leave their last will and testament.

They won't be able to leave another will after that. These are their last wishes.

the latest fashions and the latest trends.

These are the fashions and trends of this moment. However, this will change in the future. But at this moment, these are the latest.

However, there are exceptions, as J.R. also points out quite nicely:

As a matter of fact, I think I might prefer the latest book you've read to the last book you've read, although I wouldn't correct anyone for using the latter. A pedantic wiseacre might answer, "What was the last book you read?" by saying, "Last? I hope I'll be reading another soon!", even though the word last is used that way.

9

They both have roughly the same meaning, but the words aren't entirely interchangable. We don't normally talk about the last fashions or the last trends, we talk about the latest fashions and the latest trends. People don't leave their latest will and testament in a strongbox, they leave their last will and testament.

As a matter of fact, I think I might prefer the latest book you've read to the last book you've read, although I wouldn't correct anyone for using the latter. A pedantic wiseacre might answer, "What was the last book you read?" by saying, "Last? I hope I'll be reading another soon!", even though the word last is used that way.

As a matter of fact, as an adjective, last has at least three meanings. NOAD says:

last (adjective)
1 coming after all others in time or order; final : they caught the last bus.
2 most recent in time; latest : last year
3 only remaining : it's our last hope.

so it can be an ambiguous word. If I talk about the last inning of a baseball game, I could be referring to the ninth inning of a game, or even the fourth inning of a game, if we are currently in the fifth inning:

There were a lot of exciting plays in the last inning, don't you think?

2

The difference for me is that "latest" is present while "last" is past.

In these two cases they both essentually mean "the most recent" but you wouldn't say "Karen was always keeping up to date with the last fashions." or "What was the latest book you read?".

2

"Last" refers to the "end" of something. "Latest" refers to the aspect of being "new" (i.e., most recent in time) and must be used for things for which there can be no end.

It seems that these two words are interchangeable when (A) the topic is time-related and (B) the topic is something that can "end" multiple times. When the two words are interchangeable, "last" is preferred even if "latest" is technically correct.

In the phrase "the last update was on...", you can substitute "latest" and still be technically correct, but it sounds weird, probably because the time aspect is already inferred from the word "update". Ditto for "last activity", "last modified on (date)...", "last time"," last visit", and "last (volcanic) eruption"; there's an implication of time in all of these statements and the implication becomes redundant if you use "latest".

You can't use "last" for "latest fad", "latest fashions", or "latest trends", but that's no surprise since there can't really be an "end" of those things.

On the other hand, you can't use "latest" for "last apple", "last day", "last meal", "last week". "Apple" and "meal" aren't time-related and a specific "day" and "week" can't "end" multiple times.

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