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I find "last" ambiguous in the following context:

I destroyed his report in our last meeting.

IMHO, both of the following interpretations make sense:

  • "He can get however pissed he wants; he won't be seeing me again anyway." – the meeting was the last one and there will be no more meetings.

  • "I'd had enough of his bullying and I just couldn't hold it off." – the meeting was held this morning and we will meet again tomorrow morning.

As such, is there a way to disambiguate "last" in this context without supplying more information? Is there another word that only matches one of the meanings?

Thanks in advance!

EDIT:

I think I might have understood something wrongly.

My understanding was that last meeting can denote the final meeting as well as the previous meeting, e.g. "In the last meeting, we discussed..."

Does the second denotation hold?

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    In your first example you can use final, while In the second example you can use latest. Is this what you are looking for? – user66974 May 2 '15 at 6:09
  • @Josh61 That's way easier than I thought...Thank you! Is this question too simple? Should I close it? – Thomas Hsieh May 2 '15 at 6:11
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    You can leave it open and see if there are more suggestions,though it will likely be closed as a General Reference question. – user66974 May 2 '15 at 6:21
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    Are you asking whether, while sitting in the final meeting of the committee, you can ask the secretary to read the minutes of "the last meeting" and hear what you said in the previous meeting instead of this one? Yes. – Dan Bron May 2 '15 at 22:09
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Normally, the term last meeting says to me "most recent meeting," not "final meeting." That would be the default interpretation, even though people realize the other one is possible. Compare:

At our last meeting, we discussed the budget. (most recent; there will be others).

However, last meeting can unambiguously mean "final meeting" in certain contexts:

We usually had monthly meetings, but in 2014, the November meeting was our last one. (There can't be any more meetings in 2014.)

At our last meeting, we were making progress towards an agreement, but then John's plane crashed. (Clearly, there aren't going to be any more meetings.)

If you feel that trashing someone's report can be interpreted as having the same kind of finality as the death of one of the parties, then you must distinguish. Otherwise, you can rest assured that people will interpret it as "most recent," not "final."

And by the way, it should be "tomorrow morning" rather than "next morning."

  • Thank you! Not sure why I used "next morning"... Is "in the meeting", as opposed to "at the meeting", grammatically wrong, or is it just a difference in the emphasis. e.g. time frame versus situation? – Thomas Hsieh May 2 '15 at 21:33
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    "At the meeting" "sounds" better than "in the meeting," but the latter is not wrong. You might say "we were in the meeting for five hours," so it's not unheard of. You also can use "next morning" for the day following an event, when it is already in the past by the time of the telling: "He said he would call the the next morning, but he didn't." – Steven Littman May 3 '15 at 23:37
  • Thanks for the explanation! This is extremely helpful to me. – Thomas Hsieh May 4 '15 at 0:02
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Last can mean final or latest (i.e. most recent).

There is no perfect foolproof way to disambiguate which meaning is intended if a written sentence is analyzed out of context.

In speech, they could be spoken slightly differently, though it's difficult to describe the nuanced differences fully, and it's almost impossible to document this behavior because it would involve listening to thousands of movies and TV shows and recordings of speech by fluent native speakers.

Consider:

It happened at our last meeting.

Typically, last meaning final would be delivered in more "stately" tonalities (marked by a longish-pause between "last" and "meeting", the two words delivered in much the same tone) and the vowel of last would be of longish duration too; whereas when the meaning is "most recent", the vowel of last would be relatively brief in duration, and there wouldn't be much of a pause between "last" and "meeting", and the pitch of "last" might also be raised.

  • Thank you! I think you have well illustrated the tonal difference; at least I can capture it. – Thomas Hsieh May 2 '15 at 12:04
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You're right about the ambiguity. The adjective last refers to the item at the end of a list (or series of meetings). As such, it can also refer to the most recent meeting.

At our last meeting, we plotted to invade Canada. Today we will discuss Mexico.

Using last does not specify whether the meetings will continue to occur in the future.

The term final can be used instead, because in addition to denoting the position at the end of the list, it also communicates that there are no more meetings.

In disgust, I poked him with a pencil at our final meeting.

  • Thank you! Could you please answer my updated question as well? – Thomas Hsieh May 2 '15 at 11:20

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