Is there any real difference in usage between ex- and former?

closed as too broad by Janus Bahs Jacquet, MetaEd, Benyamin Hamidekhoo, choster, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Oct 28 '13 at 2:31

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  • Welcome to the site. Can you describe research have you done (e.g. dictionaries, quotations) as to where you do or don't see a distinction? You may also wish to visit the Help Center for guidance on asking answerable questions. – choster Oct 28 '13 at 1:48

My sense is that 'ex' carries just a slight note of dishonour, whereas 'former' carries no such nuance.

One speaks of 'former' Prime Ministers, and Presidents. I've never heard anyone speak of an ex-President, even of those that did behave dishonourably.

If a person was speaking of their 'ex-huband' or 'ex-wife', it would suggest to me that they were implying disfavour. 'My former wife' sounds softer.

An ex-clergyman sounds to me like one who has been 'unfrocked', a 'former clergyman' one who has retired; similarly with policemen.

  • I would agree, with the addendum that "ex-" seems like someone was forcibly removed from the state, where as "former" seems like a natural transition. – Chris Sunami Oct 27 '13 at 2:22
  • 1
    I don't disagree with your take, but I found a relevant Ngram rather interesting. It seems like ex- was favored (at least in writing) up through the early 20th c. Benj. Harrison (or his publisher) even opted to entitle a 1901 collection of his speeches Views of an ex-president. – J.R. Oct 27 '13 at 8:30

Another take is that "ex" is a compound form, while "former" is an adjective. That would be "the difference in usage". But they both mean the same thing.

I don't think "ex" has a negative connotation.

Perhaps, in the President/Prime Minister case, "former" implies that he's still living.

On the other hand, no-one refers to the former spouse as "former husband (or wife)".

It's just one of those peculiarities of English. Nuances abound.

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    Conversationally, I agree that ex-wife seems much more common that former wife. In writing, though, the use of former doesn't seem so rare. Here's an interesting Ngram. – J.R. Oct 27 '13 at 8:23

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