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I'm not native English and some work colleague and me were discussing about if saying human first or human-first is a correct English expression.

For example, we may promote that our company thinks of humans before machines so we might say:

  • Human first. We prioritize human development, because we love our job. Customer satisfaction starts with our own work happiness.

It's just a sample sentence to provide an use case of human first.

Is it correct?

Thank you in advance!

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  • 1
    Actually there is already a job consulting firm that uses that expression in their name.
    – user5267
    May 12 '14 at 9:51
  • Human first is fine. What's not fine is thinking in humans. That makes no sense. You can think in categories, in pictures, in symbols; in terms, in ways; in hindsight, in advance; but you cannot think in humans. You think of humans.
    – ЯegDwight
    May 12 '14 at 9:54
  • @Josh61 Yeah, I found that, BTW sometimes company names aren't correct in terms of language rules. May 12 '14 at 9:57
  • @ЯegDwight I see! Why don't you post a an answer for that? I'll be glad to upvote/accept it :) May 12 '14 at 9:58
  • If you are promoting the company and want to mean that you give priority to humans over machines, human first is absolutely fine. Go ahead with it. Just no hyphen.
    – Maulik V
    May 12 '14 at 12:58
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No, it's not "correct" to say Human first. Certainly in any normal context it wouldn't be considered a credible "sentence". The nearest equivalent I can think of is...

Women and children first

...which is essentially an imperative command reduced from something like "Let women and children go first", or "Put women and children first in priority". Grammatically, the equivalent for human should probably be...

Humanity first
or
Human beings first

Note that the women and children version is idiomatically well-established, and actually means something in real-world contexts (emergencies such as a shipwrecks). In practice, OP's version is simply marketese (a marketing slogan), so it doesn't need to "mean" anything, or adhere to any grammatical principles.

It's also worth pointing out that syntactically, human is normally an adjective. It can be used as a (countable) noun, in which case in functions similarly to woman, child, person. I suppose given the way Toys R Us tramples over standard grammar and orthography, they could feasibly adopt a slogan such as "Child first". In language terms it would be "weird", but at least it might grab people's attention.

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  • So I need to understand that human first is ok when it's applied to a marketing slogan. Am I wrong? May 12 '14 at 12:52
  • @Matías: I'm not sure what you mean by "ok" there. Personally I think as a marketing slogan it stinks (and it sounds to me like a bad translation, rather than something a native speaker working for an advertising agency might come up with). Opinions on marketing material are outside the scope of ELL, but for what it's worth I would sooner buy from a company using the byline "We put people first", rather than "Human first". But in reality we all know companies are in it for profit - no-one believes "corporate messages" like that anyway, but you really need to do some market research. May 12 '14 at 13:06
  • Well, in fact "We put people first" is a good idea. It sounds good. May 12 '14 at 13:08
  • @MatíasFidemraizer whoa whoa... we put people first is a very popular tagline. Be cautious before you use it professionally!
    – Maulik V
    May 12 '14 at 13:10
  • @Maulik: Yes, but we're not here to provide marketing advice. The reason "We put people first" (and variants such as you, the customer, quality, satisfaction, etc.) are very popular is precisely because such constructions are syntactically "normal" and don't just sound quirky/stupid. May 12 '14 at 13:24
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There are actually several different issues with the proposed statement which need to be addressed:

"Human first" vs. "Humans first"

The first question that comes to mind when reading "human first" is "which human?". Is only one human being put first? If the answer is yes, then you probably need to specify more precisely which one:

"Put that human first," said the robot overlord to the executioner.

The answer is probably no, though, and you really meant to put all humans first, in which case "humans" needs to be plural here:

The angry mob shouted, "Humans first!"

Is "humans first" a valid sentence?

No. There is no verb here, so you can't just use it by itself as a sentence. A proper sentence should say something like "Humans should come first."

It is common in some circumstances (slogans, headlines, etc) to leave verbs out of sentences when the meaning can be understood without them. This can be done for emphasis or convenience (when chanting a slogan), or to save space (when writing on signs or printing newspaper headlines). It is also sometimes done in advertising. It's important to note, however, that while this is common, it is still not grammatically correct, and should not be done in more formal contexts. A more correct way to write your text would be:

Humans should come first. We prioritize human development, because we love our job. Customer satisfaction starts with our own work happiness.

Period vs. Colon

Using a period to separate the first sentence from the rest of the statement is technically OK, but since the first bit is serving as an introduction to the rest of the text, arguably a better choice here would be a colon:

Humans should come first: We prioritize human development, because we love our job. Customer satisfaction starts with our own work happiness.

When to use hyphenated phrases

Regarding "humans first" vs. "humans-first", connecting words with a hyphen changes them into an adjective (or sometimes an adverb), which means they then need to be used to describe something else:

We believe in putting humans first.

("humans" (noun) are being "put" (verb) "first" (adjective))

vs.

We have a humans-first attitude.

("humans-first" (adjective) is a modifier of "attitude" (noun))

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  • I appreciate your answer. It adds more value to the issue itself. In the other hand, it seems like "XXX first" in marketing is accepted, isn't it? Your sentences may be too long if they need to be used as a marketing slogan. Anyway, I agree that our discussion isn't about marketing, but just about English correctness :) May 12 '14 at 21:17
  • Yes, as I mentioned things like that are done sometimes (and even possibly considered accepted) in advertising/marketing, but that still doesn't mean that they're correct :) In some cases it makes sense due to space concerns, or needing to make the rhythm or sound of a phrase work better, but in other cases it's really just sloppiness and people should still hold it up as a bad practice...
    – Foogod
    May 12 '14 at 22:22
  • At the end of the day, it's like poetry or music: the language is turned into art May 13 '14 at 5:20

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