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Sometimes when I read I notice that some authors say "the first time" while others say "for the first time". Of course mostly in different situations but is there a difference? What does the preposition change?

  1. I have done it the first time in my life.
  2. I have done it for the first time in my life.

Or

  1. That's the first time I've heard this song.
  2. For the first time in my life I have heard this song.

Or

  1. It will be the first time when I am going there.
  2. It will be for the first time when I am going there.

Edit: The sentences (examples) aren't from books.

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2 Answers 2

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You cannot use the present perfect with a time phrase that excludes the present, which the first time does, unlike for the first time.

"The first time" requires the past tense.

I drove a car the first time at age 16.

I drove a car for the first time at age 16.

WooHoo! I have driven a car for the first time!

WooHoo! I have driven a car the first time! ungrammatical

P.S. the first time refers to the first of several or of many, whereas for the first time refers to the first as first, as something new.

The first time I read that poem, it made little sense to me, but after rereading it several times, it began to make sense to me.

I had never understood the poem, but after my strange experience in the noonday sun, it made sense to me for the first time.

For the first time, I understand what you were going through.

The first time, I understand what you were going through. ungrammatical

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  • So, "the first time" can only be used in the past tense? But "for the first time" can be used in the past, the present, and the future? May 2, 2017 at 18:26
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    for the first time is completely free-ranging time-wise. The first time, when it refers to an incident in the past, is incompatible with the present perfect. But you can use the first time to mean for the first time with the future: The first time we visit, it will seem rather empty, because everyone will be away for the holiday. When we visit for the first time, it will seem rather empty. May 2, 2017 at 18:30
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    However, context can "coerce" the sentence into a statement about the speaker's deictic Present. That is the first time I have ever driven a sports car. Thanks for letting me take a spin! May 2, 2017 at 18:35
  • Aha, so this way perfect makes sense. But not the other way around. May 2, 2017 at 18:40
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This question has confused me for a long time. In my opinion (I am not a native speaker of English):

the first time can be used as conjunction, while for the first time can only be used as adverse:

The first time I saw him, he was wearing a black coat.

For the first time I saw him wearing a black coat.

Also, the first time emphasizes "time point", while for the first time emphasizes "time line" (from past to the time the incidence happened). When we put "for the first time" inside a "when clause", it enphasizes "time point" as well, for example:

The first I saw him, he was wearing a black coat. (time point)

For the first time, I saw him wearing a black coat. (time line)

When I saw him for the first time, he was wearing a black coat. (time point again)

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