February 11, 2010

Language Tips: Lastly or finally & fraction or percentage

Posted in lastly/finally, percentage/fraction at 9:09 am by dlseltzer

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Winter Wonderland Edition

Tip 1: Lastly or finally

A reader writes:

Can you write about lastly versus finally?

Yes, I can. And here is what I have to say:

Never use the word, ‘lastly.’

That was easy, but I bet that is not what the reader had in mind. So, I’ll address the issues that I suspect the writer is thinking about, however, I will come back to my original exhortation.

‘Lastly’ refers to the final item or action of a series of items or actions.

After watching the snow all day, I spent some time shoveling my steps. Lastly, I cleared off the porch.

This is the only way ‘lastly’ is properly used.

‘Finally,’ on the other hand, is much more versatile. Finally can be used like ‘lastly,’ above.

After watching the snow all day, I spent some time shoveling my steps. Finally, I cleared off the porch.

But ‘finally’ can also mean ‘eventually’ or ‘at last.’

It was quiet all day, but finally, I heard the sound of a snow plow off in the distance.

‘Finally’ can mean ‘in the end.’

Finally, all that was left was snow and ice.

‘Finally’ can also mean ‘conclusively.’

Just how many inches of snow have fallen has not been finally determined.

But why did I start off by saying: Never use the word, ‘lastly.’

That’s simple. I think ‘lastly’ is unwieldy and awkward. I was going to say it is ugly, but then I saw that someone described it as ‘stylistically unattractive,’ and I guess I’ll go with that. ‘Lastly’ is terribly stylistically unattractive. I would say ‘finally’ or ‘last’ instead.   I would not use firstly, secondly, thirdly, or fourthly for the same reason. It is simpler and cleaner to use first, second, third, and fourth. Besides, how far would you go with this? At what number is it no longer acceptable to add an ‘ly’?  For me, this starts at first and never changes.

Tip 2: Fraction or percentage?

A reader writes:

I wondered whether  you can weigh in on the use of fraction vs. percentage.

For example:

Across the 12 scenarios there was substantial variation in the fraction of physicians included (range 20%-69%).

Because we report a percentage of 20% it seems like we should say instead, “in the percentage of physicians.” If we use fraction we should use 0.20 or 1 in 5. But I see the words used both ways and maybe they are interchangeable.

I would use ‘percentage’ as well. I would aim for the most precise term, and in this case, ‘percentage’ is the most precise. On the other hand, ‘fraction’ also can mean ‘a part of the whole,’ and in that sense, it is accurate as well. I think that, in many cases, the words can be used interchangeably.

The one caveat is that ‘fraction’ is often defined as ‘ a small part of the whole,’ and ‘fraction’ is associated with ‘small.’ So, I be cautious about using ‘fraction’ when referring to a substantial ‘percentage’ such as the 69% in the example above.



  1. Fernando Muñoz L. said,

    Thanks for your wonderful blog. Please include me in your email list.

  2. Anonymous said,

    Fraction and percentage should never be used interchangeably if numbers are provided. A percentage is a part out of 100, without writing the 100. A fraction is a part out of a whole. If numbers are not given, then a percent and fraction are, as you said, both a part out of a whole.

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