PREMISE: I am not asking about the difference in meaning or usage between latter and later; it is, therefore, not a duplicate of the older question: what is the difference between later and latter?
Instead, I would like to understand more about its history and why it is rarely used as the comparative adjective of late, and, finally, if the superlative “the most latter” ever existed.
According to Wiktionary, latter is not comparable.
latter (not comparable)
Relating to or being the second of two items.
Near (or nearer) to the end.
Close (or closer) to the present time.
In fact, “more latter” or “lattermore” are nonexistent as is “most latter” but “lattermost” is cited in all the major dictionaries, English Oxford Dictionaries defines it as: Nearest to the end, final, last although it fails to mention that it is a superlative.
I admit to feeling confused, and I would argue that the following examples are using latter as a comparative adjective.
I prefer his latter book than his first (I prefer his second book)
There are more ways of achieving the latter [fame] than the former [great wealth].
It also seems clear that latter is an ungradable adjective; it cannot be modified by using very, really, quite or less in front nor by using words such as absolutely or completely and I have never seen the superlative form, “the most latter”.
Additionally, I cannot come up with a single example where the word latter is used in a sentence without the definite article or a determiner.
From Oxford Dictionaries
‘the latter half of 1989’
‘heart disease dogged his latter years’
‘… in the latter stages of the game.’
‘…in the latter part of the week than at the beginning of the week.’
‘The latter half of my previous letter,…’
I later checked on Google Ngrams and "the latter" is by far the most common pairing
Last but not least, I found the following chart that says latter is the comparative adjective, until very recently I had never seen nor heard that the adjective late was irregular.
Different charts which include latter can be seen on this site (23/28 image) and here. I'm tempted to say that the charts are mistaken, but are they?
- Is (or was) late an irregular adjective?
- Is latter non-comparable as Wiktionary claims it to be?
- Why is latter nearly always preceded by the definite article, is this semantically or grammatically significant?