Earlier this week someone I was talking to insisted that it's acceptable to use "prior" interchangeably with "former" in the context of "former vs. latter," i.e. to mean the first item of two things listed.

For example, "I had to go to the store and pick up Jimmy from school, but I skipped the prior because the latter was more important." This didn't sound right to me, but the Oxford thesaurus lists "prior" as an antonym to the second definition of "latter," which is "denoting the second mentioned of two things." Thoughts?

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    "Prior" is a synonym of "former", but they tend to be used in different contexts. In the one you have chosen I have never seen "prior" used - it would always be "former". Equally "Prior to the meeting we had lunch" - would NOT take "former". I don't believe you can use "prior" as a noun. – WS2 Jan 26 '19 at 22:06
  • Since leaving the above comment I have looked at the OED. "Prior" can be used as a noun where it refers to a superior person in a religious order etc. e.g. "The prior of the abbey...". In US police jargon, a suspect is sometimes said to have "prior" - meaning a prior conviction. (The British police do not use "prior", but similarly refer to a suspect's "previous" - "He's got previous"). Other than in those instances "prior" has no noun use - only adjectival or adverbial. "Prior to the incident (adverbial phrase), she had been feeling unwell". – WS2 Jan 27 '19 at 11:16

When you're dealing with just two items, yes.

Merriam-Webster lists prior's second usage as 'going before another in time or order.' https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/prior.

Thesaurus.com's most succinct answer is on its entry for previous, stating 'previous means former or prior' https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/previous

When you have more than two items under consideration, former and latter are generally not applicable, but prior continues to have meaning. I think this probably why you have prior knowledge, prior history, and prior tasks, but only rarely does one have former knowledge, former history, or former tasks.

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