I want to describe a situation that happened two levels earlier. I use the bash shell to navigate through directories.

Say I started at the directory /home, and then I moved to the directory /home/Downloads, and finally I moved to /home/Videos.

Now I'll describe how to navigate to earlier directories:

To go to the previous directory type cd -. And to go to the previous of previous directory type cd --

As you notice, previous of previous sounds odd.

Is there a replacement word for "previous of previous"? Or how would you paraphrase it to make it sound grammatical?

  • 3
    To go to the previous directory type cd -. And to go to the directory before, type cd --
    – Tushar Raj
    Jul 9, 2015 at 17:54
  • 2
    Parent and grandparent?
    – deadrat
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:04
  • 4
    @kenn: Ordinality? Sorry man, but we don't speak math. The closest English could get you would be 'grandprevious'. Try Math.SE or Stackoverflow
    – Tushar Raj
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:05
  • 1
    @deadrat: Jinx.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:06
  • 1
    @CRDrost You are right about that. I don't know how I acquired that misconception, I used to use some bash functions to navigate between directories, I might think that cd -- take you to antepenaltimate directory, but it's wrong for bash environment. cd -- takes you to $HOME directory.
    – kenn
    Feb 27, 2019 at 17:02

9 Answers 9


antepenultimate - Two before the last. Penultimate is just before the last. Before the penultimate is antepenultimate.

Some shells will allow you to use the up arrow to recall the last command, so I call antepenultimate, up-up-up.

  • You appear to get my point but your approach is rather fantastic.
    – kenn
    Jul 9, 2015 at 19:19
  • 2
    correct answer here
    – chiliNUT
    Jul 9, 2015 at 22:30
  • I was just thinking anteprior should be a word.
    – stevesliva
    Jul 9, 2015 at 22:30
  • For the sake of completeness: there used to be a preantepenultimate meaning third before last. Jul 10, 2015 at 14:41

penultimate or next-to-last or second-to-last.

Ultimate means last, penultimate means next-to-last.

That can refer to latest instead of last, but I guess that is what you are after here, since your example seems to suggest chronological access.

Last can mean many things, but next-to-last always refers to, well, the thing that is prior to the last one, however last is meant. IOW, whatever ordering is used to define last, the same ordering handles next-to-last correctly.

(If you mean only moving up the directory hierarchy, then parent and grandparent are appropriate.)

  • 1
    Drew, the word I was trying to bring up was next-to-last It sounds well. But what about the third, the fourth level directories? How would you define them?
    – kenn
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:18
  • 8
    Neither of the suggestions here works in the context given. Both the paenultimate and the next-to-last directory would be one that appears just before the very last directory in a directory listing. It doesn’t work for a directory that is two steps back through your browsing history. Jul 9, 2015 at 18:26
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I'd like to see your answer too.
    – kenn
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:30
  • 1
    @kenn pointing out that an answer is incorrect does not imply that one can think of a correct answer. This is especially true if there is no correct answer, which I am inclined to think is the case here.
    – phoog
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:53
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet I don't believe next-to-last carries a universal context; if the task is moving backwards through history, next-to-last accurately describes the place I was before the last place I was before now.
    – Evan Davis
    Jul 9, 2015 at 20:58

You may need something like the one before last:

Do X to go to the last [or previous] directory; do Y to go to the one before last.

Here's an example:

The two last chapters, which were not covered in the course proper, are perhaps less easily accessible: the one before last because it is rather technical, the last one because it requires some (elementary) knowledge of analytic (or algebraic) complex geometry.

(Complex Tori and Abelian Varieties, p. vii; emphasis added)

  • I don't think I can use it in my case, because the ultimate directory is not known.
    – kenn
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:26
  • 5
    Instead of last, just use that: “Do X to go to the previous directory; do Y to go to the one before that”. Or alternatively, “Do X to go back one step; do Y to go back two steps”. Jul 9, 2015 at 18:27
  • @kenn It's used for chronological or logical sequence: the current directory is the one you're in right now; the last is the one you were in before now; the one before last is the one you were in before that. Jul 9, 2015 at 18:28
  • 1
    @MattGutting this use of "last" is ambiguous and can be confusing. If you are at the 8th station of a transit line having 10 stations, and you just arrived from the 7th station, the phrase "last station" could denote the 7th station or the 10th.
    – phoog
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:57

Why not just say previous but one (or previous bar one)?

I find it self-explanatory (in analogy to last but one). Google gives me quite a lot of hits in exactly the requested sense. Example:

The core principle of renku is “link and shift”. “Link” signifies that each verse links somehow to its predecessor and “shift”, by contrast, means that each new verse must shift away from the previous-but-one verse, and have nothing in common with it. Thus, in any three consecutive verses A, B and C: B is to link to A and C links to B, but crucially C shifts right away from A.

(HAIKU SPIRIT: Guidelines to compose a renku, emphasis mine)


I don't know of any commonly used terminology, but to specify this with ordinality you could use first antecedent (for cd -), second antecedent (cd --) and so on.

In the context of bash, you could perhaps go for second last history entry (cd --) etc, though since you seem to limit this to cd commands that is not quite right either. Second last directory visited perhaps?

  • Alok, your approach is smartly. It grammatically sounds well.
    – kenn
    Jul 9, 2015 at 18:35
  • 1
    @kenn unsolicited grammar advice: read up on copulative verbs (linking verbs). In both of your sentences, the last word should be an adjective, not an adverb (smart, good). Because of the nature of the verb, the word in that position describes the subject, not the verb.
    – phoog
    Jul 9, 2015 at 19:01
  • @phoog thank you for correcting me. I ll never master English. By the way if you keep correcting my grammar errors you ll end up with proving infinite set theory
    – kenn
    Jul 9, 2015 at 19:30
  • @kenn this is a mistake that many naive speakers make, generally not with to be but with others like sounds, looks, etc. One sentence to illustrate: A wet dog smells well, but a wet dog smells bad.
    – phoog
    Jul 9, 2015 at 19:34
  • I thank you all who posted an answer or commented on my topic. I should pick up one of the answers here. Alok's answer looks functional though it sounds a bit unfamiliar at first glance. Since nobody criticise his answer I ll accept it. But I had better wait a while.
    – kenn
    Jul 10, 2015 at 10:26

Wouldn't you be able to say, "the directory prior to the previous directory', etc. I'm not sure if it's mathematically clear, but it would be very clear to me if I were the user who was trying to follow your instructions.

  • You are right in that context. It's possible to define it in a number of ways semantically. I wondered if there were any ordinal phrase I could replace previous of previous
    – kenn
    Jul 9, 2015 at 19:17

Before, or two before

In fluent English you'd probably say, "Use cd - to go to the last directory, or cd -- to get to the one before that." You can then refer to it inline as the "before-last" directory.

You should also consider describing them with reference to the present directory as the directory before and the directory two before the current one. If you need to scale to larger numbers, you should definitely use this: it has the distinct advantage that you can refer to the directory fifty-eight before the current directory, and nobody has any ambiguity about what that means. The equivalent "previous-of-previous-of-previous-of..." will be unsustainable after 5 or 6 iterations.

  • Chris, I think you are a programmer and native English speaker. You presented a universal way to describe ordinality too. It's clear and precise.
    – kenn
    Jul 10, 2015 at 18:01
  • @CR Drost: Not relevant to the OP's question but Chris are you sure cd -- works as you said ? Feb 25, 2019 at 14:39
  • @digital_infinity I mean it probably depends on what shell you're using but at least in Bash and Zsh it appears to do that: bash-3.2$ pwd /Users/cdrost bash-3.2$ cd /tmp bash-3.2$ cd /var bash-3.2$ cd -- bash-3.2$ pwd /Users/cdrost
    – CR Drost
    Feb 26, 2019 at 18:04
  • @CR Drost. -- means usually in gnu commands: "stop reading options, the following arguments are file names, not options". In your case there is zero following arguments so cd -- is equal to cd. It is interpreted as "go the user's home directory". See (unix.stackexchange.com/questions/11376/…) and (askubuntu.com/questions/711390/…) Feb 27, 2019 at 11:08
  • @digital_infinity oh, now that is interesting. I thought bare cd didn't change your directory. You're right that my test was inadequate and they do in fact take us back to the home directory.
    – CR Drost
    Feb 27, 2019 at 16:23

Instead of previous use, "one level up", previous of previous use "two levels up". unless is going back in to navigation history, then this would not work.

  • 1
    Per the Bash documentation, "If directory is ‘-’, it is converted to $OLDPWD". OLDPWD is "The previous working directory as set by the cd builtin.". It's not the parent directory; it's the previous directory.
    – recognizer
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:01
  • @recognizer Yes, you are right about it. Thank you for clarification. Some posts such as parent, grandparent directory get meaningless. But montelof's approach is logical. He paraphrases the sentence.
    – kenn
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:11
  • in that case it could be history -1, History -2, History -3, etc. or just print the path as it would be. instead. like /home/Downloads, /home/Videos. and thats it.
    – montelof
    Jul 21, 2015 at 19:13

I'm not a programmer, but in any other context, I would probably use "former" and "latter".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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