Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Next to last.
  • adj. Linguistics Of or relating to the penult of a word: penultimate stress.
  • n. The next to the last.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Coming next-to-last in a sequence.
  • adj. Of or pertaining to a penult.
  • n. this sense?) A next-to-last thing.
  • n. A next-to-last syllable in a linguistic unit.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Last but one.
  • n. The penult.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Immediately preceding that member of a series which is the last; next before the last; being the last but one: as, the penultimate syllable; the penultimate joint. Compare antepenultimate.
  • n. That member of a series which is the last but one; specifically, the last syllable but one of a word.
  • n. In whist and bridge, the lowest but one of a suit.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the next to last syllable in a word
  • adj. next to the last

Etymologies

From Latin paenultimus; see penult.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin paenultimus, from paene ("almost") + ultimus ("last"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

Wordnik is becoming a not-for-profit! Read our announcement here.

Comments

Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • The last hour had taken me into the penultimate phase, the wolf looking out through human eyes with quiet blazing animal alertness. From "The Last Werewolf" by Glen Duncan.


    March 28, 2012

  • What happened to my dear Unicode? :-o

    November 6, 2009

  • /p??n?lt?m?t/ looks like an error. A stressed schwa?
    Random House says /p??n?lt?m?t/ which not only looks more reasonable but also agrees with my printed version of the Heritage Dictionary (including the /?/s and schwas in the unstressed syllables).

    November 6, 2009

  • I think many people assume penultimate to be a cross between pinnacle and ultimate. In that sense, Nigel from Spinal Tap could have said, "this amplifier is the penultimate."

    October 29, 2009

  • This word is often taken to somehow mean "super-ultimate" as if the "pen" syllable where an intensifier. This dilutes the usefulness of actual meaning, but it is a very common usage nonetheless.

    June 28, 2009

  • He who laughs last does not laugh penultimately.

    June 24, 2009

  • My all-time, most hated type of speech is execubabble. For example, the (?word?) 'incentivize'.

    It's not a @#!#@#@! word!!!

    It is a noun, not a #@#!#@!@ verb!! Stop with the verbification!!! (To quote a term coined by Grammar Girl).

    June 11, 2009

  • the word is so misunderstood...

    October 17, 2008

  • In the left atrium?

    September 23, 2008

  • People who use the word penultimate properly hold a special place in my heart.

    September 23, 2008

  • One of wife's favourties.

    January 19, 2008

  • The use of literally to mean figuratively makes me lose a little more faith in humanity every time I hear it.

    May 23, 2007

  • Likewise on both accounts, with extra cringes for the recent fad of belligerent used as a synonym for drunk/intoxicated. *huuuhg*

    May 21, 2007

  • Yes! AAAAAARGH! I literally cringe when I hear that. ;-)

    May 21, 2007

  • Literally, when whatever's being described is the exact opposite of literal.

    May 21, 2007

  • And the first (just out of curiosity)?

    May 21, 2007

  • That's got to be the second-worst language mistake I hear people make all the time.

    May 21, 2007

  • Meaning "next to last" not "super ultimate" as people often seem to assume.

    May 20, 2007