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When we talk about a certain contestant, we would say 'the first contestant' or 'contestant No.1'. Why the definite article ‘the’ is omitted in the second case?

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In your context there might not be any practical difference between "contestant number 1" and "the first contestant", but there are differences.

'Contestant' is a common noun - that is, there are many contestants. A common noun needs an article (eg "I'm eating an apple") or some other determiner such as a possessive (eg "I'm eating my apple"). So, to introduce someone as simply "a contestant", you need an article, or a determiner. Saying that they are the first makes them unique, and that is why they are "the first contestant". You could also say "our first contestant".

Adding "number 1" is more like labelling them with that number, such as the way that all the runners in a race might have a number on their shirt. Assigning them a number doesn't necessarily mean that they have to go first, even though in your context, that is the case. When you label someone with a number you are forming a compound noun. "Contestant number 1" cannot refer to anyone else, and that is why you don't need an article.

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  • Thanks a lot, but my qustion is "Contestant number 1" can also refer to someone in another contest. It seems necessary to use "the contestant number 1" according to grammatical rules, although it sounds strange. Nov 17, 2021 at 15:07
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    @Paddington "the contestant number 1" is just wrong. I can't think of any context where a contestant in a contest would be mistaken for being in another competition? To use the definite article, a person or thing only has to be unique within the context - for example, "the steering wheel in my car". There are lots of steering wheels in the world, but there is only one in the specific car referred to. Likewise, each competition only has one 'first contestant'.
    – Astralbee
    Nov 17, 2021 at 15:11
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    @Paddington If "contestant number 1" can refer to a contestant in another contest, how would adding "the" change anything? Think of "contestant number 1" as a name. If there's a contestant called Joseph, there's probably another Joseph in another contest somewhere, and saying "the Joseph" doesn't fix the problem
    – gotube
    Nov 17, 2021 at 19:21

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