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Page 265 of the Collins English Usage reads

If one of a series of events is happening now or has just happened, you refer to it as the latest one.

You refer to the event before the latest one as the last one. If no event of the kind you are talking about has happened recently, you refer to the most recent one as the last one.

If someone keeps having or producing a series of things, you refer to the one they have now or the one they have produced most recently as their latest one.

You refer to the one before their latest one as their last one. If they have not had or produced one recently, you refer to their most recent one as their last one.

I do not understand the use of the last for the one before the latest one, and unfortunately no example is given for it.

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  • It depends on context. Sometimes the last one means the one before the "current" one. Other times it means the most recent one (which may also be the "current" one). And sometimes it specifically means the one which ends a series; there will be no more. Doubtless there are other nuances I've missed, but they're the main senses for your contexts. – FumbleFingers Sep 14 '20 at 17:18
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    @FumbleFingers Also the difference between (the) last week/year : "Last week, month etc (without the) is the week, month etc just before this one. If I am speaking in July, last month was June; in 2006, last year was 2005. The last week, month etc is the period of seven/thirty/etc days up to the moment of speaking. On July 15th 2006, the last month is the period from June 16th to July 15th; the last year is the 12 months starting in July 2005" – GJC Sep 14 '20 at 17:31
  • I read a newspaper today, but I don't do this very often. In fact, the last one was actually back in August. That should be a context where you can easily see how we might use the last one to refer to the one before the current one. – FumbleFingers Sep 14 '20 at 17:39
  • @FumbleFingers the one before the current one, but is it also the one before the latest one? – GJC Sep 15 '20 at 8:17
  • There should never be any confusion about the meaning of latest, which is always the most recent one.The only thing that might cause confusion is when the last one means the one before the current (latest) one, but it's normally contextually obvious when this applies. If there was any real chance of ambiguity, a native speaker would probably rephrase to avoid it. – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '20 at 10:44
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It comes down to whether or not one is still producing those series of events. If one were to quit cigarettes, then the last cigarette they smoked, would be the "last one". If that same person were to smoke again, that newest cigarette would become "the latest one" they smoked. It seems that particular usage would only be in effect if a person thought they were going to stop producing or engaging in a series of events they were previously doing, semi regularly.

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