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I know with words determining somehow the order of things I should use the definite article. But I would say it depends on the context. Is the following correct?

This is a first discussion out of many that I am planning.

Could this be right when the audience did not know I was planning these discussions?

If not, why the following is fine:

...if you are buying a first car.

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The best way to say this would be:

This is the first discussion out of many I am planning.

It really doesn't matter if the audience already knows you were planning the discussions or not. We typically use the instead of a(n) where there is only one of something, and, when something is "first", there is only one of it.

If there is more than one, however, we would use an indefinite article, like this:

This is an early discussion out of many I am planning.

(This could be referring to the first meeting, or the second or third.)

But, when there is only one, we go back to the definite article:

This is the earliest discussion out of many I am planning.

As for phrases like:

If you are buying a first car...

that works because we are using the phrase [a first car] to mean the first car that one particular person will purchase. Because the article would be read my many people, though, there really isn't one and only one first car. Your first car is not the same first car as my first car.

Note that, while a first car can be found, the number of occurrences is dwarfed by the phrase the first car.

  • Thanks a lot. Thinking about this, what about "a following", in an example like this: Please add a following topic to the list. I guess there should be "the following", because you mean the particular one mentioned below that, is that correct? – John V Jul 24 at 10:45
  • @JohnV - I can see how this would be maddening for the learner. I would say: Please add a new topic to the list, but it would always be, Please add the following topic to the list. – J.R. Jul 25 at 20:14
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Remove "out" and it's fine:

This is the first discussion of many that I am planning.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • You've missed the point of the question. The OP was not asking for an improved version, the OP was asking if the indefinite article could be used. You've changed it to the definite article, so, I suppose the original wasn't "fine" after all. – J.R. Jul 23 at 9:59
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    No I didn't. Re-read the question: "Is the following correct?" Do you really think I need to add "no?" – Walter Vargas Jul 23 at 10:05
  • Sure, but the title reads: This is a first … - can I use the indefinite article? Moreover, before asking, "Is the following correct?" the OP asks, "I know ... I should use the definite article..." Lastly, pure proofreading (e.g., "Are there any mistakes?" or "Is this correct?") is expressly off-topic on ELL unless a source of concern is clearly specified. Any answer to this question should address the article issue with more than a rephrasing of the original sentence. – J.R. Jul 23 at 10:51
  • Sorry, I am confused. So can I say "This is a first" or do I need to use "the" - This is "THE" first... Context being that the audience does not know about any planned discussions, which is why I think the indefinite article is fine. – John V Jul 23 at 11:54

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