If I were to say "the previous item" or "the prior item" or "the preceding item", I could be referring either to the most-recent previous item, or to any other item logically coming before the current one.

How can I refer to not just any prior item, but the last or most-recent item, without using the word "last"?

I'm especially interested in a word that would be a suitable replacement for the "most-recent previous" in technical writing.

By way of clarification...

I'm looking for alternative terminology that de-emphasizes the concept of time and emphasizes the concept of logical ordering. The word "recent" seems too attached to the concept of time. The phrase "most-recent previous" is, frankly, a mouthful --- especially if used repeatedly. The word "last" has the potential to be confused with the ultimate in an entire series, rather than merely the immediate predecessor of any specifically-referred to item the series.

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    I'm not seeing in your question the problem you're having with with using "most recent". – Kristina Lopez Aug 30 '13 at 21:23
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    What @Kristina said. We do actually have penultimate and antepenultimate (even preantepenultimate if anyone needs it, though I've never come across ultimate used to mean the one after the penultimate. Anyway, absent any explanation of why OP can't/won't use most recent, I've closevoted because I think it's unclear what exactly he's after and why. – FumbleFingers Aug 30 '13 at 22:09
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    @KristinaLopez Because in some technical writing, the concept of time implied by the term "recent" is a little strange. Also, "most-recent previous" is 3 words; it would be nice it there was a good 1 word to use in place of the 3 words. – synaptik Aug 30 '13 at 22:23
  • I agree that one word would be nice. As @FumbleFingers said, I've not heard of ultimate being used as the occurrence after penultimate either. Maybe it's a regional thing but your "most-recent previous" sounds strange to me. Where I'm from, we just say "most recent" (without the hyphen). – Kristina Lopez Aug 30 '13 at 22:42
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    In technical parlance, the abbreviations MRU & LRU have been in use for long, most likely because there is no suitable single-word substitute for the phrases Most Recently Used (Accessed) & Least Recently Used (Accessed). – Kris Sep 2 '13 at 7:04

What about "My latest experience was . . ."

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  • But "latest" means current. I mean the one immediately preceding current. – synaptik Aug 30 '13 at 22:24
  • Ah. I'll bet you don't like "penultimate" though. :-) – Greg Hullender Aug 30 '13 at 22:26
  • That would be good... but that means next to last in a series. So if I'm referring to an item, X, somewhere in the middle of a series of items, and I wish to also refer to the item that immediately precedes item X, then it would not be the penultimate item. Or, at the very least, the use of "penultimate" would be potentially confusing. – synaptik Aug 30 '13 at 22:28
  • Then "Ultimate to X" would be the immediately preceding item to X, and "penultimate to X" would the item before that. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 30 '13 at 22:30
  • Really? Hmm, then that might be just the ticket! :) I didn't think about using (pen-)ultimate in that way. Thanks to both of you. – synaptik Aug 30 '13 at 22:32

If you say

"the previous item" or "the prior item" or "the preceding item"

The definite article indicates exactly what you mean to say.

The indefinite article would be less specific

"a previous item" or "a prior item" or "a preceding item"

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I do not grasp this notion that every imaginable concept must be expressible in English as a single word. Writing and speaking usually involve combining words into phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs.

"Preceding" means before "now" and may refer to one item or more than one. If you are discussing British kings who ruled before George III, you can quite properly say "the preceding kings." If, however, you say "the preceding king," you mean George II. If there is potential ambiguity in "preceding" because the number of preceding items exceeds one and you are using "preceding" as a noun rather than an adjective, then any potential ambiguity can be eliminated by saying either "all the preceding" or else "the immediately preceding."

I agree that "preceding" may refer to chronology or a previously specified list. I do not think there is a lexical way to distinguish between the two meanings. If you have a list and want to refer to the last in historical time, I'd list them in chronological order to avoid any ambiguity. If you list in an order that reflects increasing importance but not chronology, you can avoid ambiguity by saying "the last in the preceding list."

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I think you're looking for "preceding". Preceding will always mean the most previous to X, regardless of wherever X falls chronologically. X-1 is precedent to X.

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