I have learned that "the first" is a determiner. So this example arises a question for me.

Elements of a first step

Could someone explain it? For context


Good question :)

Normally, there can of course be only one first step in a journey or a process, so that first step would be referred to as the first step.

However, in this case there are several scenarios (or rather, there is no clear agreement on any fixed scenario as yet).

Since everybody agrees that every journey starts with the first step, the writer in the article summarizes what that first step might be in this case.

However, he does not want to imply that this is the actual first step to be taken; rather, it is a possible first step in a possible scenario. There might very well be other options, other ways to define a first step in maybe different scenarios.

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  • I really don't mind the downvote, it probably means I can learn something. But my crystal ball is broken, so a comment would be nice. – oerkelens Feb 26 '14 at 10:23
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    +1 Everything in this document is hoped-for, tentative, and hence 'indefinite': "a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution", "an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" by following "a reciprocal, step-by step process" – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 26 '14 at 11:55

Well, this is bit difficult but then I referred to COCA and it gave whopping (I'm using this word because I didn't expect this many) results (749) on the phrase a first step.

The indefinite article is probably used as there could be many first steps. In other words, there could be many options to initiate as the first step.

Maybe, a common rule of using indefinite article for the first time and then definite to describe it again is applied (I found a herb. The herb was green in color).

Note that after this subheading, the article used is definite.

Elements of a first step

The first step would be time-bound, with a duration of 6 months, and renewable by mutual consent, during which all parties will work to maintain a constructive atmosphere for negotiations in good faith.

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    Yes, "the" in the first sentence implies "Whichever step is decided to be the first one...". – nxx Feb 26 '14 at 13:44

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