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Recently I've seen several examples of phrases like 'awarded for first place' on Wikipedia etc. (E.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_ribbon)

I think I understand when definite or indefinite articles are used with ordinal numbers, but what does a zero article mean before ordinals? Does it imply that the 'first place' is treated as a mass noun here?.. Is it even correct/grammatical?

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  • When the ordinal number refers to a place in the results of a race or competition, zero article is usual. He took second place in the 100 metres. Commented May 12, 2022 at 7:57
  • The (optional, usually omitted) article before second place is usually the definite article (He claimed [the] second place in the race). But it's usually the indefinite article in contexts like He is [a] second cousin to the Duke of Westminster (again, usually omitted). That's because there's only usually one second place in a race, but noteworthy relatives usually have lots of "second cousins". Commented May 12, 2022 at 12:31

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Yes, it's quite correct. Numbers, not just ordinals, often remove the need for an article. For example, you could say "I have an apple", or "I have one apple". You could say "Astralbee is the best at answering English questions" or "is number one for answering English questions".

There are plenty of other contexts where you might use an article with an ordinal, for example, "it was the first place I visited", but in a race the zero article is idiomatic. A numbered position in a race is something specific, so there isn't a need for a definite article to add specificity.

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  • What about a phrase like 'the first step in solving any problem is realizing there is one'? It's generally cited on the internet with 'the', but in somewhat famous speech from 'The Newsroom' ('America is not the greatest country in the world anymore') the guy at the end says it without 'the'. How to reason about such phrases?..
    – ledonter
    Commented May 13, 2022 at 5:46

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