I am writing an essay, and in this essay I wrote an introductory phrase "first of all". Now, my question is can I write "first of all" when there is no "second of all" in the same essay?

Here's the definition from [Oxford dictionary]:

1 Before doing anything else; at the beginning.
‘first of all, let me ask you something’
1.1 Most importantly.
‘German unity depends first of all on the German people’

None of the examples in the dictionary clarify this for me.

  • You can - there are always reasons for making something look unusual. Without the context of the phrase, I think it is difficult to provide any guidance on how people will read what you have written. How would you re-phrase this now you see where you ended up? Oct 1, 2016 at 12:44
  • Also, see this question which is discussing the list usage: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/18959/… Oct 1, 2016 at 15:45
  • I was not clear in my question, and I should have explained it with the context. Anyway, by now it has become clear to me that we can use phrases such as “first”, “firstly”, or “first of all” even if there is only one point under discussion.
    – Syed Ahmed
    Oct 1, 2016 at 18:29

1 Answer 1


You don't say why you wish to use this phrase... I had (with an engineering context as my default) assumed you were describing a sequence - maybe an open ended one.

In both of the dictionary examples quoted, it would be unusual (but valid) to mention the subsequent parts by number. To expand on how the examples could be used in context:

First of all, let me ask you what the subject of your essay is. Then we can follow on with the details that particularly interest me.

Here, the transition from the opening chapter needs to be marked in some way, but you don't need to do that by counting. If you wanted to count, you might get something like this (with a change in emphasis, and a different phrase):

First, let me ask you what the subject of your essay is. My second question would be to know your native language in case that also helps me.

For the second example, you might have:

German unity depends first of all on the German people. There are many other factors that also play their part, but none which are worth listing, let alone trying to rank in importance.

The first of your examples does imply there will be something that follows the begining part. We may never get there (or even define it), but we know it is available.

The second example (where I would choose to use primarily or mostly) is less demanding of any subsequent parts even being mentioned.

This is the British English usage I'm referring to, US English might have different usage

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