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I know that "at first sight" is a set-phrase. But I wonder whether "at first sight" can be interchangeable with "at the first sight" in some contexts?

1) They fled at the first sight of the mobs. 2) They fled at first sight of the mobs.

If "at first sight" is not virtually "at the first sight" then how would you rephrase it?

2 Answers 2

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"at the first sight" is generally always followed by "of". It has connotations about detecting something early, usually dangerous.

"at first sight" usually finishes a sentence or clause. It is not so much about early-detection in a warning sense, but more about being struck with an immediate intuition about something or someone encountered. Often, love.

I'm not sure of any basis I'd use to say that (2) is outright wrong. But (1) would be the preferred choice.

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"at the first sight (of)" refers to the first time you (or in the example, they) set your eyes on something/someone. The subject enters the field of vision and you become aware of it because you weren't aware of it before. E.g.: "The crew was relieved at the first sight of land after weeks at sea."

In addition to what HostileFork said, "at first sight" can also refer to a situation or a number of things making a whole. E.g.: "The workshop appears tidy at first sight, but as you walk around, you find tools and junk lying around in corners."

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