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I'm working with a survey that among other topics has questions about sexual behavior. While figuring out the data, I ran into the following description:

If there have been more than three sexual partners in the twelve month period that has elapsed, record only the three recent in the order of the most recent, next most recent and second most recent.

In the survey, this language on "next most" and "second most" is used consistently in the same way as in the quote above. From the quote I find it easy to interpret that:

  • "next most recent" means the 2nd most recent (occurred before the most recent but after the 3rd most recent)
  • "second most recent" means the 3rd most recent (occurred before the 2nd most recent)

My question is: Does the quote have an outright error in the use of "next most recent" and "second most recent"?

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dictionary.reference.com defines second as:

next after the first

Hence in a list "most recent, next most recent, [...]" "next most recent" is clearly ordered such that it is "next after the first", and hence is synonymous with "second".

You are therefore correct that the quote is very poorly worded. Thankfully the intended meaning is clear, meaning "first, second and third most recent".

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