Former Coworker or Ex-Coworker: Which one to use in conversations?

Former Coworker or Ex-Coworker: Which one to use in conversations?

In a work-related conversation, we find ourselves in a dilemma when discussing the person we worked with before. That is, which phrase is correct to use – either Former Coworker or Ex-Coworker: Which one to use? Would a former coworker sound pretentious or too formal? Or if I say ex-corker, will it sound rude and too personal? In this article, we are going in-depth to find the right term you can say while talking about the employees you worked with without sounding incorrect.

While the phrases ‘former coworker’ and ‘ex-coworker both are correct to use in a conversation, professionally, ‘former coworker’ is preferred over ‘ex-coworker,` which sounds more casual than the first one. Though there is no such hard and fast rule, think of it as if you are writing a letter or an email, you will refer that employee you worked with as a ‘former coworker,’ and if you are chatting casually with your friends, you can say ‘ex-coworker without sounding incorrect.

How do you know which phrase is correct: Former Coworker or Ex-Coworker

There are times when we find ourselves in a situation where we have to talk about our coworker from our last company. Or we are talking about someone who left or got fired from the company. And you are now confused about how to address someone who no longer works with you properly. 

How will you mention that coworker without sounding incorrect or inappropriate? Should you say former coworker or ex-coworker? Isn’t a former coworker sound stuck up and old? Or does an ex-coworker sound like you had a causal or personal relationship with the person? Aren’t these words the same? Or are these different? How to be sure? Well, you don’t want to sound like someone, who cannot differentiate between former and ex, do you? 

This article will help you know exactly which phrase to use and in which situation to feel more confident next time you are expressing your views about someone who left your company.

Jeff Bezos Career Advice
Jeff Bezos Career Advice

What Is the Difference between Former And Ex?

To look at how to use the word former and ex in a sentence, let’s compare them separately.

When to use Former?

  • What does Former mean?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word former means coming before time. It also means related to or occurring in the past. It is an adjective, i.e., it is written before a noun.

  • Synonyms of Former

Old, sometimes, previous, previous, prior are some words that have the same meaning as the former. These words are written before the noun, same as their synonym. Former is also used as ‘first mentioned’ when you are comparing two things.

  • Examples of Using Former in a Sentence
  1. As adjective – previous, before in time

“I am a former student of this school.”

“Former President of the Union had resigned from the post last year.”

  1. As first mentionedwhen comparing two things

“Lemon and Orange both are fruits, however the former fruit is more acidic than the latter.”

When to use ex?

  • What does ex- mean

Ex- is used as prefix before a word- noun, verb. 

  1. out of or outside of something

extract, expel, exterior, ex-directory.

  1. former, but still living 

ex-husband, ex-president, ex-wife. Hyphen is always written between ex and the relationship noun.

  • Synonyms of ex-

Old, past, once, previous are some synonyms of ex-

  • Examples of using ex in a sentence
  1. Out of something

“The dentist extracted the boy’s wisdom tooth.”

  1. Of past relationship

“I am in a custody battle with my ex-wife.”

To use ex to denote someone from the past or someone you were in a relationship at some point in time, hyphen, i.e., a single dash, is used to connect ex and the word of relationship.

Comparing Former and Ex

WordsFormerEx
MeaningOld, late, once, past, previous, first mentionedOut of something, outside, old, past, once
TypeAdjectivePrefix (always comes before a noun)
ConditionsCan be used alone. No hyphen neededHyphen is used in with ex to denote something of past
ExampleFormer boss, former girlfriend, etc.Ex-husband, ex-brother in law, etc.

Except for this, there is no actual difference or any profound distinction between the two words. You can say ex-president as well as a former president. The same goes for ex-boss and former boss. So, does it matter if we say former coworker or ex-coworker? Where does the line exist?

How Language changes?

Well, the line exists in the way we structure our sentences. Sometimes a sentence may be grammatically correct, but it will still sound wrong to hear or speak. Also, there is the colloquial factor of us expressing ourselves in front of different people at different times. For example, if you are talking with your teacher, you would be careful with how you speak and with the words you would use. You would be more formal while addressing them. At the same time, when talking with your friends or family, you would be more relaxed with your words and sentence structure. The same can be said about using former coworkers and ex-coworker. You may say former coworker when talking with your boss and say ex-coworker while talking to your friend.

What about grammatical rules?

Some people say that when you want to mention all your previous relationships in one sentence, you can use former, as in “former girlfriends.” In contrast, when you are talking about your latest relationship, you can say “my ex-girlfriend.” So, there seems to be a time frame reference. However, in the U.S., where language rules are less constricting, there is no such thing. Every day we find the English language gets more informal, more local, and flexible.  So, it has become okay to say “all of my ex-girlfriends” as well as “my latest ex-girlfriend”. The same can be said about a former coworker and an ex-coworker. In the US, it is acceptable if you mention “all of your ex-coworkers” and “my last ex-coworker” rather than former coworkers.

Regarding the Context- What You are Talking About

Sometimes some words feel very odd to use in given circumstances. If even they carry the same meaning, using one word instead of another seems strange to utter. For example, “I was telling her not to drink coffee before bed.” Here, the saying has the same meaning as telling or asking, but using saying in this sentence sound wrong.

Does former and ex have right or wrong vibes or meanings?

  • Some people argue that ex- is an informal prefix, or rather it has some negative connotations behind it. 
  • Such as, the ex-CEO of XYZ Company is currently under investigation for fraud and embezzlement.
  • Whereas the former have more professional vibes to it or rather positive undertones. 
  • For example, the former CEO of ABC Company was seen at a charity event last night.

We see such types of news headlines regularly. By this logic, a former coworker is more positive or formal, and an ex-coworker can come off as a negative or rather casual conversation use.

Breaking it Further Down

The next Question is, does it make difference where I am working now?

It heavily depends on your situation and preferences, whether or how you are mentioning the said employee who no longer works with you. If you are currently still working with the company and talking for the first time about someone who no longer serves the company alongside you, you can say, for example, my former coworker. Jack was always on time. If YOU have left the company, there is no need to be so formal about the people who worked there with you. You can say, for example, my ex-coworker, Jenna was a heavy smoker. I always felt so stuffy around her. So, a lot depends upon you where and how you want to refer to your previous coworker.

Take Away From This Post

Considering all the different scenarios, so far, it always boils down to personal preferences. Some prefer former and others ex. However one take away from this is- When in a professional and formal setting, refer to your coworkers as former coworkers. In a more casual, informal setting, you can refer to them as ex-coworkers. If you are emailing your boss or in a job interview, say former coworker. If you are chatting with your friend at a bar or in a café, say ex-coworker. It is hardly any difference in the USA, though. You do you. After all this debate, the next question arises, should you say colleague or coworker? 

Also read Which Resource Management Task Deploys or Activates Personnel and Resources

Former Coworker or Ex-Coworker: Which one to use in conversations?

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