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In terms of ranking, competition, is it idiomatic to say “won/took THE first place“? I have always used and heard it without the definite article.

  • Where did you see that? It is possible, but not likely. It depends on the context. – Lambie Aug 13 '18 at 14:45
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There's a clear-cut idiomatic divide between including the article or not, depending on whether the verb is to win or to take. As this NGram chart shows, it was far more common to include it until about a century ago with took the first place. But per this chart, the usage won first place wasn't well-established until about then, so it gained traction using the newly-favoured "article-less" form.

Having said that, both versions are at the very least "acceptable" with a broad range of verbs (including receive, share, obtain, gain, etc.) and of possible things won (second prize, [the] gold [medal], etc.).

But on average, if you find similar numbers of matches for versions with and without the article, the latter will almost certainly be predominantly the more recent instances, so you should copy them.

  • I don't think that this usage can be ngrammed. It depends on context. Without context, the difference is meaningless. – Lambie Aug 13 '18 at 17:52
  • We've been here before. The reason I linked to those charts is because they confirm to me what I already know. If you disagree with what I think I know about how English is used (and how it's changed over time, in this specific case), then by all means just say so and make your case. I realise there could be some "false positives" given my specific search strings in those links, but I can assure you I did at least look at some results to satisfy myself they weren't sufficiently numerous as to significantly undermine my point. – FumbleFingers Aug 13 '18 at 18:08
  • I guess you don't understand what I am saying. I am saying that the usage depends on context. Generally, one would not use a the. Just saying it's out there does not show actual usage in context. I think one has to show an actual sentence in these cases that shows the merit of the determiner. – Lambie Aug 13 '18 at 19:36
  • Sure, to some extent usage depends on context. But the message from my two charts is that one of the more important aspects of that context is When was the text written? If the only difference (apart from article presence / absence) between two written examples is that one was written 100 years after the other, it's far more likely the article would be missing from the later instance. Which is useful information for learners to be aware of. If you know of some other identifiable "difference in context" that's significant (and thus useful), please let everybody know. – FumbleFingers Aug 14 '18 at 11:56
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    In my opinion, a high degree of historical information is not helpful to learners. Did I bother learning the pluperfect subjunctive in French so I could say it right off the bat? No. It went "extinct", and if I need it, I look it up. In teaching, I would most likely say: Don't use the "the". – Lambie Aug 14 '18 at 12:30

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