a. His two previous books

b. His previous two books


  1. His 2 latest previous books
  2. His 2 previous latest books
  3. His previous latest 2 books
  4. His latest previous 2 books
  5. His previous 2 latest books
  6. His latest 2 previous books

    I am wondering what is the difference could be between these in meaning? Which one do you use? which one you don't use? I think just especially native speakers or learned ones in English can provide the most proper answer.


  • Thanks. However, would you please tell me about the other phrases I have already raised to be explained?
    – nima
    Commented Oct 3, 2015 at 15:56
  • 2
    You should be aware that even the phrase "next wednesday" is ambiguous enough to confuse native English speakers. The phrases in your question, even if you can find technical agreement among experts on their meaning, are so ambiguous that nearly all native speakers would be confused by them.
    – Jonah
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:12
  • 1
    using both latest and previous is confusing. However, a) and b) are the same. The only difference I sense is the placement of the adjective previous.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 7:19
  • In the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, cardinal numerals, such as 2, and general ordinals, such as previous, are both considered postdeterminers. They may "co-occur" and the order of co-occurring postdeterminers is not set by any rule, so a and b are equally valid. With regard to which options I would or would not use: I would use either a or b but none of the options from 1 through 6. See Grammarianism and The Internet Grammar of English.
    – John B
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 23:58

3 Answers 3


The difference between

previous two books


two previous books

is that the former (by the proximity of "two" to "books") counts books in twos (in pairs, so to speak). Let's say the author wrote books A, B, C and D, with 'D' being the latest. When speaking of the books 'C' and 'D', we could refer to them as the "last two" or "most recent two". And if after that we want to mention 'A' and 'B', we can use "previous two".

The phrase "two previous" refers to any two books published before some other book in a context not necessarily limited to talking of pairs of books. If we mention 'D', then "two previous" could be 'B' and 'C', or 'A' and 'B', or 'A' and 'C'. They don't even need to be consecutively published.


I don't sense any difference in meaning between a. and b. Both imply the existence of (at least) three books - one that is under discussion, and two previous ones. Without further clarification, I would in both cases assume that it referred to the two most recent books before the one being discussed. Because 'previous' implies something to be previous to, so I would not simply talk about 'The author's previous two books', without a frame of reference. If you just want the two most recent, you could say "His latest two books" (or "His two latest books" - both are fine).

Example: given an author who had written five books, conveniently titled (in order of publication) A through E:


If someone said "Book D is better than the previous two.", I would assume they meant that D was better than B or C.

If they said "The latest book is better than his previous two", I would take them to mean that E was better than either C or D.

In order to refer to different previous books, they would need to specify. If they said "The latest book is longer than two previous ones.", I would ask which two, because it could be any two of A, B, C, and D.

If they said "His latest two books are excellent." I would know they meant D and E.

Because 'latest' is implied, I would generally not say "His two previous latest books" in any order, because it's redundant.

Side note: Most style guides recommend spelling out numbers less than 11: 'Two books', 'Ten books', '24 books'.


I would never use options 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 because "previous" and "latest" contradict each other. Saying a book is "previous" means it came before another book. Saying a book is "latest" means there are no books after it.

MrTheWalrus is right to say you need a frame of reference when using "previous".
I don't see any big difference between option a ("his two previous books") and option b ("his previous two books"). Option b could put more emphasis on "previous" in some situations but that is a very small difference.

This will sound strange, but there is a distinction between "his previous two books" and "two of his previous books". If he wrote books A B C D E F in that order then consider the following:

  • "D was a good book but his two previous books were better". This sentence tells you that B and C were better than D.
  • "D was a good book but his previous two books were better". This sentence tells you that B and C were better than D.
  • "D was a good book but two of his previous books were better." This tells you that either A and B were better than D, or A and C were better than D, or B and C were better than D. That is, don't know which two books were better, but you do know that the two better books were written before D.

I'm not sure why this is true. It doesn't seem to make sense grammatically.

  • Thanks. I can get what you mean, but I need the explanations to be categoraized or classified better than they are done. Just MrtheWarlus has somehow explained only one of the items, that is, Because 'latest' is implied, I would generally not say "His two previous latest books" in any order, because it's redundant. What about the other of the items I have asked? Are they redundant?
    – nima
    Commented Oct 4, 2015 at 12:31
  • "Previous latest" is not redundant - it is self-contradicting. Previous means "occurring before." Latest means "nothing occurred after." (Last) The latest book means only one thing - the book he wrote so recently that he has written no books since. "Previous book" refers to a book that was written before some other book. So BookX cannot be the latest and the previous - either he wrote a book after he wrote BookX (BookX was the previous book to BookY) or he didn't write a book after BookX (BookX is his latest book.).
    – Adam
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 19:29

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