Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
December 1st, 2014
Episode 32 of 827 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 01, 2014 is: penultimate \pih-NUL-tuh-mut\ adjective 1 : occurring immediately before the last one : next to the last 2 : of or relating to the next to the last syllable of a word Examples: The word edamame places its primary stress on the penultimate syllable. "The decision to bump off two major characters in last week's episode of Boardwalk Empire made for an excellent hour of television, but the unfortunate trade-off is that the show's penultimate episode, 'Friendless Child,' is almost painfully anticlimactic." Sarene Leeds, Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2014 Did you know? Penultimate isn't the last word in words for things that are next to last. There is a pair of noun synonyms that are used commonly enough to have gained entry into abridged dictionaries: penult and penultima. Although all three can refer to something that's next to last, penult and penultima are usually a bit more specific; they are used most often to identify the next to last syllable of a word. All three derive from paenultima, a Latin root from paene ("almost") and ultima ("last"). You may occasionally hear the word penultimate used as an intensified version of ultimate, as in "a race they've called 'the penultimate challenge.'" This use isn't typically found in edited prose, howeveror in dictionaries. One of our editors discusses it in this video.