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In German there is a pattern for counting items from the end of a list. The last item is "das letzte", the one before is "das vorletzte", the one before that is "das vorvorletzte" and for each other item there's just another "vor" added.

While searching for an English translation for the German word "vorvorvorletzte" I came across several translations and discussions but none of them showed any usage pattern. Furthermore I didn't find any indication of which variant ("to", "from", no preposition) is used most nor to what area of the world those translations apply.

So I am still wondering: When there are items 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, how can/will item 2 be called?

  • third from last?
  • fourth from last?
  • anteantepenultimate?
  • fourth-last?
  • fourth to last?
  • the last but three item?
  • the last but four item?

Is this a question of dialect/local use?

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  • 1
    Why not second?
    – Daniel
    Jan 30, 2012 at 1:52
  • Yes, sure, it could be "second" and it could be "item 2", too, but that's not what my question is about. It's about a denotation counted from the end (in case someone jumps the queue).
    – AndreKR
    Jan 30, 2012 at 1:55
  • I see. I would say "fourth from the last", but that's just me. Also, I think the last but three would be more appropriate, the reason being that when you take away three items, item 2 is the last.
    – Daniel
    Jan 30, 2012 at 1:58
  • I added that as another possibility.
    – AndreKR
    Jan 30, 2012 at 1:59
  • I added some introduction to "improve" the question, though I am not sure if this is really an improvement.
    – AndreKR
    Jan 31, 2012 at 1:16

2 Answers 2

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The 4th is next to last or last but one (penultimate).
The 3rd is second from (or to) last or last but two (antepenultimate).
The 2nd, is third from (or to) last or last but three. According to Google Ngram Viewer there are some occurrences of preantepenultimate in the corpus.
As for dialect, you will rarely see the Latin forms other than ultimate except in discussion of the language Latin or deliberately academic style (or parody thereof).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_(linguistics)

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  • This is a good list, but on the other hand, I might call it (2) fourth from the end, too, though...Depends on the context.
    – JeffSahol
    Jan 30, 2012 at 2:39
  • I would always assume second to last meant penultimate. Last but two is certainly antepenultimate, and second from last is ambiguous. Jan 30, 2012 at 10:10
  • 3
    if second from last is ambiguous, is third from last penambigous?
    – JeffSahol
    Jan 30, 2012 at 19:31
0

Many people consider "next to last" and "second to last" to be synonymous. That's not how I heard them growing up, and it creates confusion to use them that way.

In your list I would use these terms: 5 is last 4 is next to last 3 is second to last 2 is forth to last (more commonly "second"!) 1 is first (fifth to last is getting to be a bit of a stretch)

So you have the LAST one. The one NEXT TO it (which is ONE away from the last one). The SECOND to last counts two away from the last one.

The difference in the systems is that some people would count the last one as "one," others like myself could the next to last one as "one," that is, the first one away from the last one.

Terms like second-last are UK English, I think; I've never heard or read them.

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  • 2
    Does your system of counting (which I admit I've never encountered before) really go from last to next-to-last, to second-to-last, to fourth-to-last, skipping third-to-last entirely? (Incidentally, while I have no problems with second-to-last and third-to-last, fourth-to-last is highly unnatural to me. I would always say fourth from last, or just fourth-last.) Jul 24, 2014 at 14:44
  • No. That's a brain-typo. Last, next to last, second to last... (And then rarely) fourth, fifth...
    – user86114
    Jul 29, 2014 at 15:54

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