4

Suppose you have a series of objects (first-second-third-fourth). Here the fourth object is the last object and the first object is the first object. But what is a word to call first, second and third objects?

First objects? non-last objects?.... Please note that the number of objects can be arbitrary.


Update As some asked where I needed this I should say I needed this word when I wanted to learn Persian to someone, I said

In a conjunction combined of multiple sentences with passive verbs, you can use contracted form for .... verbs and the full form for the last verb.

I meant for the verbs but the last.

  • @Usernew thanks, but its not like a word game and I described a common situation which can not be find easily in a dictionary – Ahmad Oct 29 '15 at 13:39
  • 3
    Not word golf IMO. This is a legitimate question on how to refer to things on a list. – Nihilist_Frost Oct 29 '15 at 13:40
  • @Usernew I don't see much use in "defenestrate" and co., while this guy is trying to find out how to refer to items in a list. – Nihilist_Frost Oct 29 '15 at 13:45
  • 4
    @Ahmad - It sounds to me like you're asking for a word for "not last". I don't think English has such a word. The only way I can think to say it is "all but the last". For example, "There are four men here. All but the last are wearing hats." – stangdon Oct 29 '15 at 14:23
  • 1
    I think the question is really "How do I refer to the objects that aren't the first or the last?" instead of "What is the word to call...". It's not word golf. Some allowances need to be made for folks that are writing in a language they're trying to learn. – ColleenV Oct 29 '15 at 19:50
4

Any given item in a list falls into one of the three categories...

1 first
2 intermediate/intervening (all except the first and last)
3 last


We can also divide the list into just two categories - all except the first or last...

1+2 preceding/antecedent/earlier (relative to the last item)
2+3 following/subsequent/later (relative to the first item)

...but note that both these forms can be used to reference just one earlier/later item (or several, but not necessarily all items except the first/last).

  • In my opinion, these are the best options. Penultimate and its relations aren't that common, and second-to-last and its relations are too specific for an arbitrary number of things. If you need to be that specific, you would say the 40th out of 50, or something similar. – ColleenV Oct 29 '15 at 21:41
  • 1
    @ColleenV: Yeah, I was particularly taking note of OP's the number of objects can be arbitrary, and I assume the specific element he wants to identify (as an individual item, or together with all items between it and one end of the list) is also arbitrary. So the last, penultimate, antepenultimate... approach soon runs out of steam (preantepenultimate and so on are really just "joke" words). And while things like third to last and last but one are usually fine, they sound a bit weird with larger numbers. – FumbleFingers Oct 29 '15 at 22:15
2

A list of names:

  • Ann
  • Bob
  • Chris
  • Dave
  • Ed

Ed is the last name.

Dave is the second to last name.

Chris is the third to last name.

And so on.

1

Most people spell it out for small numbers of objects.

First, second, and third objects.

Or for stuff like 20 objects, so on, and you select the ones that are not the last object, I would use this:

Every object except the last

or

First 19 objects

or something similar.

  • what if I have 20 objects or to say about arbitrary objects? – Ahmad Oct 29 '15 at 13:38
  • You can always say "first 19 objects" if you know how many, that is. – Victor Bazarov Oct 29 '15 at 13:50
  • @VictorBazarov but what if I don't know the number – Ahmad Oct 29 '15 at 14:26
  • Then find out the number, or an "every x except y" may work out, among other solutions. – Nihilist_Frost Oct 29 '15 at 14:27
  • @Ahmad: if neither "all but/except the last" nor "the first NN" works for you, then you probably need to review your approach to it. Why do you need to name them at all? What is it you're trying to say? – Victor Bazarov Oct 29 '15 at 14:34
1

Penultimate (next-to-last), antepenultimate (the one before the next-to-last).

1

You have a couple of options:

First, second, third, ... twenty-third..., next-to-last, last

This format is common, but typically only used with short lists. Note that I've thrown in "twenty-third" just to illustrate that you can refer to specific items in the middle of an un-numbered list. However, you typically don't, because then your audience has to count through the list to find the 23rd item.

First, second, ... penultimate, ultimate

This is far less common, & I probably wouldn't use it in a crowd of average Joes.

In general, you're either dealing with an explicitly numbered list, in which case you can refer to things by item number as at an auction, or you're not. If the latter, then typically you would pick out the ones at the ends, as you have noted, and refer to the rest as ... "the rest".

After all, to most people's minds the point of putting things in a list is to group them together. That way you can say "don't forget the grocery list", rather than having to say "don't forget the milk, and the beans, and the bread, and the lettuce, and the..."

  • My online bank requires me to have a password of 8-32 characters, from which it asks for three positionally-defined characters each time I log on. The input prompt text uses last and penultimate, but not antepenultimate (I suppose they assume some customers won't understand that one! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 29 '15 at 22:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.