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


  • IPA(key): /pɪˈnʌltɪmət/
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penultimate (not comparable)

  1. (Britain, in US usually formal, literary or scholarly) Next to last, second to last; immediately preceding the end of a sequence, list, etc.
    • 1677, Robert Plot, “Of the Heavens and Air”, in The natural history of Oxford-shire: Being an Essay Toward the Natural History of England[1], page 15:
      [] they [the sounds of an echo] next strike the ultimate secondary object, then the penultimate and antepenultimate; []
    • 1878, Samuel Butler, 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. (mathematics, rare) Relating to or denoting an element of a related collection of curves that is arbitrarily close to a degenerate form.

Usage notesEdit

While the Latinate penultimate is predominant 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. Although last but one continues to be somewhat more popular in Britain, next to last, second to last, etc. have been gaining in popularity.



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penultimate (plural penultimates)

  1. (uncommon) A penult, a next to last, 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), 33:
        At Woodstock, the penultimate of August.
    2. (linguistics, literature, uncommon) The penultimate syllable of a word or metrical line.
      • 1728, E. Chambers Cyclopædia:
        Antepenultimate is that before the Penultimate, or the last but two.
    3. (mathematics, obsolete, rare) The penultimate element of a collection of curves.
    4. (card games, uncommon) The penultimate (next to lowest) card in a suit.
      • 1876, Arthur Campbell-Walker, The Correct Card, Glossary page xiii:
        Penultimate, the. — Beginning with the lowest card but one of the suit you lead originally, if it contains more than four cards.
    Synonym: penult



  • Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "penultimate, n. & adj." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2005.