• Penultimate


    • IPA: /pɪˈnʌltɪmət/

    Alternative forms


    From Latin paenultimus, from paene ("almost") + ultimus ("last").

    Full definition of penultimate



    1. (UK, in US usage usually formal, literary or scholarly) Next to last, second to last; immediately preceding the end of a sequence, list, &c.
      • 1677, , Robert Plot, The natural history of Oxford-shire: Being an Essay Toward the Natural History of England Chapter Of the Heavens and Air, ... they sounds of an echo next strike the ultimate secondary object, then the penultimate and antepenultimate; ...
      • 1878, Samuel Butler (novelist), Life and Habit, ch. 10:But it should frequently happen that offspring should resemble its penultimate rather than its latest phase, and should thus be more like a grand-parent than a parent.
      • 1913, Jack London, The Valley of the Moon, ch. 3:“Your clothes don't weigh more'n seven pounds. And seven from—hum—say one hundred an' twenty-three—one hundred an' sixteen is your stripped weight.”But at the penultimate word, Mary cried out with sharp reproof:“Why, Billy Roberts, people don't talk about such things.”
    2. (linguistics) Of or pertaining to a penult.
    3. (math, rare) Relating to or denoting an element of a related collection of curves that is arbitrarily close to a degenerate form.

    Usage notes

    While the Latinate penultimate is predominate in written works, the traditional English expressions for this idea were last but one and (less often) second last. Following the 1920s, American use has favored next to last to the point that last but one functions as a Britishism. While last but one continues to be somewhat more popular in Britain, however, next to last, second to last, &c. have been gaining in popularity.


    Coordinate terms

    Related terms



    (plural penultimates)
    1. (uncommon) A penult, a next-to-last thing, particularly:
      • 1962, Minutes of the Adjourned Meeting of 22nd Biennial Convention of the United Lutheran Church in America, XXII. iv.Our Lutheran concern for the ultimates (the Gospel) has allowed us to neglect some of the penultimates (bodily healing), failing to stress the total implications of that ultimate Gospel.
      1. (obsolete, rare) The penultimate day of a month.
        • 1529 August 30, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, letter (1933), 33At Woodstock, England, the penultimate of August.
      2. (linguistics, literature, uncommon) The penultimate syllable of a word or metrical line.
        • 1728, E. Chambers CyclopædiaAntepenultimate is that before the Penultimate, or the last but two.
      3. (math, obsolete, rare) The penultimate element of a collection of curves.
      4. (cards, uncommon) The penultimate (next to lowest) card in a suit.
        • 1876, Arthur Campbell-Walker, The Correct Card, Glossary p. xiiiPenultimate, the. — Beginning with the lowest card but one of the suit you lead originally, if it contains more than four cards.


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