My English teacher told me that I should always use "the" before the word "first".

But Interestingly, I accidently discovered that the expression "won first prize" is actually more commonly used than "won the first prize". (73% VS 27%, Source)

Why is that? Is it just because "first prize" is a fixed collocation?

  • I think your teacher is thinking of a limited set of uses of first.
    – mdewey
    Dec 13, 2022 at 16:05

1 Answer 1


If you're just starting to learn English, using "the" before "first" is an OK rule to follow, but it's certainly not a rule of English that "first" always has "the" in front of it. "First prize" is one example, and there's many more:

first of all
Usain Bolt came in first
first principles

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