From my understanding, when given a sequence of items, second-to-last designates the item preceding the penultimate item on the sequence. Example:

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If we consider one item of the sequence as the current one, what adjective would we use to designate the item preceding the previous item in the sequence? Is "second-to-previous" the correct adjective to use in this situation? Example:

enter image description here


Second to last is the penultimate item. First to last is the first counting from the "last" direction. Second to last is the second object from that direction. (Then again, this is rarely used, and it could be that a given group of English speakers might use second to last as either penultimate or pen-penultimate.)

Also, the way I see that picture, they look like they're passing me in the direction of the arrow, so I'd actually call the farthest to the left the last one, and the next second-to-last.

Next is the opposite of last when you're in the middle of the list, and you use them as directions. Talking about the one who just passed, you call it the last one (as in last to pass), and the one after that as second to last, or next to last. To keep moving down the list, you could say "the one before that." (I've never heard third to last, but after a moment to figure it out, it would make sense.)

In the other direction is the next object, which is about to pass you. you could keep moving in that direction either by simply saying "the one after that" or maybe by saying second to come. (or third or so on)

Basically, in the middle of the list, you treat it as two different lists, the ones that have already come, and the ones who are soon to come.

Please let me know if I need to clarify something.


Using previous does not seem natural in this case (it has more of an implication of time passing). But perhaps in context. I would go with:

The second dog before the current one.


Two dogs before the current one.

although this one might refer to both dogs before the current one.


We normally have the idea "current item in a list" only when we are iterating the list.

If you wish to iterate a list of items and, while doing so, refer back to a previous item in relation to the current item, you could use the word back.

Unlike the dog two dogs back, by this age the dog should have had its rabies shots.

The name of the item contained in the list becomes the name of the iterator and is cast in the singular or the plural:

two dogs back

one dog back

You could also say "unlike the last dog" which, in the context of iterating the list, would mean "the previous dog" not the final dog.

You could even use the word ago:

Unlike the dog two dogs ago...

These words (back, ago) are deictic: they reveal the speaker's orientation in relation to the act of iterating the list and thus when stationed on a particular item in the list.

Ordinal adjectives refer to the position of the item relative to the beginning of the list, or relative to the tail-end of the list, not relative to the current item.


To me you have LAST, then next to last, THEN second to last. Otherwise "second" and "next" are used without reference to their meaning.

Granted, we use "first, second..." at the head of a list. But it makes no sense at all to call the penultimate item the "SECOND to last," because that makes the last item the "FIRST to last," which is pure nonsense.

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