Penultimate means ‘next to last’ or the ‘second last’ one. It is easy to confuse the word penultimate with last or ultimate or often misused to mean more than the ultimate.But the word “ultimate” which may mean the “best” or “last” does not have the same meaning when it appears in the word “penultimate”. Instead it means ‘next to last’.
The word penultimate has its origin in 1670-80 from the earlier word, penultima. In Linguistics, it refers to a penult which is the “next to the last syllable in a word”. The division of a syllable is generally identified as initial, antepenult, penult and final syllable. Penultimate is derived from the Latin “paenultima syllaba”( paene ultima) which means “almost the last” The penultimate syllable in the word penultimate is “ti” whereas “mate” is the last syllable.
The word penultimate is used with reference to episodes in a TV show, collection of books in a series or chapters of a novel. While referring to a penultimate episode of a t.v. series or penultimate scene of a drama; it basically means the second last one. The antepenultimate episodes of a TV show appear before the penultimate or before the ‘next to last’. The word antepenultimate may commonly be misused to mean the opposite of ultimate or something less than ultimate. Though in fact, it means the appearance of an episode before the ‘second last’ of the series.
A penultimate novel refers to the novel next to last in a series of novels as in the case of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” which is regarded as the sixth and penultimate novel of a series of seven books. In a trilogy (a series of three), the penultimate novel is regarded as the second of three books. Similarly in the popular collection, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, a series of seven children’s books by C.S. Lewis, the penultimate or sixth novel is “The Magician’s Nephew” while the novel, “The Last Battle” is the last novel in the series.