What difference in meaning or otherwise does the inclusion or omission of the definite article make in this sentence?

When that day comes, you will be (the) first to know.

I would like to add that in Ngram, the results are pretty comparable.

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    I don't think that's a right way to use ngram. Look at this. Btw, I do not really know how ngrams works. Maybe others know better. – user178049 Aug 4 '17 at 6:15
  • Correct. So I take it that with the definite article is the only correct use. If it is, I will delete the question. – Ghaith Alrestom Aug 4 '17 at 6:17
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    No, don't delete it now. I may be wrong, so let's wait more competent users. – user178049 Aug 4 '17 at 6:18
  • I suspect that omitting the definite article happens more often in spoken communication than written communication. Similarly, "I haven't had no dinner" is grammatically wrong, but there are people who still prefer using this (it's often connected to regional dialect). I suspect that "first to know" is similar in this regard. It's not correct to the letter of grammatical rule, but it is still used in casual speech (where grammatical correctness is not the primary focus) – Flater Aug 4 '17 at 9:23
  • Without the it sounds odd – SovereignSun Aug 4 '17 at 9:51

'you will be first to know' sounds more natural as part of speech and is what I would use when talking to someone, but 'you will be the first to know' is probably more grammatically correct.

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    I disagree, i stumble when saying this, there is a gap where "the" should be. "you'll be first to know" works though. The rhythm just seems wrong. – WendyG Mar 25 at 10:06

The sentence "You'll be the first to know." has more of a "You'll be the one and only person to know." connotation, but in most cases, you can use them interchangeably.

  • disagree, first to know can only be singular, 10 people can't be first. – WendyG Mar 25 at 10:07
  • When I said that, I meant it as if you were the only one to know. Only if. – FluxDGTL01 Mar 26 at 6:13

If you said to me, "When that day comes, you will be first to know." I would understand it to mean when the day comes I will be the first one you tell. i.e you will know the day has come and the first person you tell will be me. Whereas, if you said, "When the day comes, you will be the first to know." I would take to mean I will know the day has come before anybody else, including you.

  • I am not an expert on the English language and have no formal qualifications in English. I offer my advice as a native British English speaker. I believe the advice of an untrained English speaker can sometimes be beneficial. – RedPython Jul 3 at 20:37

I think this is why it is always better to use the correct grammatical from. It enables the reader to carry on without stopping to consider alternative meanings, and perhaps picking up a red herring. Normally I would assume that 'the first' means that you will be told first, either by the speaker or someone else. just 'first' may mean that you will know by some other means than being told, and perhaps will know even before the speaker.

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