If someone says that you are the ultimate blogger, smile and be grateful. If someone calls you the penultimate poker player, don’t take it as a compliment.
Although it’s not exactly the most common word in the English language, penultimate is a word that many people misuse on a regular basis. This is understandable, I suppose, considering how rarely we hear the word spoken or see it in print. The same can be said about regime and regimen. The confusion over penultimate largely arises because of its relative similarity to the word ultimate, but that does not mean they have the same definition.
Ultimate refers to the something of the highest order, highest degree, or most superior quality. WordPress is the ultimate blogging platform. Donald Trump is the ultimate real estate mogul. If something is the ultimate, it’s the best of the best, the highest of the high… unless it’s the ultimate failure or the ultimate loser.
Penultimate refers to something that is next to last. The letter Y is the penultimate letter of the alphabet. Alpha Dog is the penultimate movie about criminal behavior. While penultimate literally means second to last, it can also be used to mean next to last or almost last.
There’s a reason why your English teacher told you that using big words doesn’t make you sound any smarter, especially if you are misusing these big words. There’s nothing inherently wrong with utilizing the term penultimate in your blog posts or freelance writing projects, but make sure you use it correctly. If you’re not entirely sure, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion and get someone to proofread your work. Otherwise, you’ll perpetually be stuck in the penultimate plateau.