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



penultimate (not comparable)

  1. (formal, literary or scholarly) Coming next-to-last in a sequence.
    • 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.


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penultimate (plural penultimates)

  1. (obsolete, rare) The second to last day of a month.
    • 1529, Stephen Gardiner, Letter, published 1933:
      At Woodstock, the penultimate of August.
  2. A next-to-last thing.
  3. (linguistics) A next-to-last syllable in a linguistic unit.
    • 1724, E. Chambers, Die Englischen Neuwörter[2], translation of Cyclopaedia, published 1976:
      ANTEPENULTIMATE is that before the penultimate, or the last but two.
  4. (mathematics, obsolete, rare) A penultimate element of a related collection of curves.
  5. (card games) The second to lowest ranked card in a suit.
    • 1876, Captain Arthur Campbell-Walker F.R.G.S., “Glossary”, in The Correct Card: A Whist Catechism[3], New York: D. Appleton & Co., published 1877, page xiii:
      Penultimate, the. — Beginning with the lowest card but one of the suit you lead originally, if it contains more than four cards.