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In an answer in Meta by DialFrost, he gave a piece of advice on how to expand English vocabulary,

Practice using new words in conversation. You can try this with a native speaker or someone who has more experience than you. This is especially important if you rarely speak English in the first place.

'In the first place' above sounds like 'given that' or 'now that'. That is, the sentence can be reworded as

This is especially important given you rarely speak English.

But dictionary.com gives as in the first place's definition:

  1. From the beginning, at the outset, before anything else.

  2. As the first of several items in order of importance. This phrase is usually accompanied by in the second place, third place, and so on.

DialFrost's use of it matches neither of the given meanings. Is his/her use of 'in the first place' actually incorrect?

Note: The OP of that question said he/she rarely spoke (it's speak when he/she asked the question) English in his/her question. So, it's a known fact to DialFrost.

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  • I don't agree with your rewording here - if I were to reword it, I'd probably simply replace the "in the first place" with "anyway" - "This is especially important if you rarely speak English anyway" - or leave it out entirely. Your rewording changes the meaning entirely by losing the conditional.
    – Showsni
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 16:14
  • @Showsni How can I lose conditional by using 'given' which means 'considering a particular thing'?
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 16:21
  • @Michael "given that" and "if" are not at all the same. "Given that X" means X is true. "If X, ..." means it's possible that X is true. In your case here, DialFrost doesn't know if the reader rarely speaks English, so they used "if". "Given that you rarely speak English" means, "Because you rarely speak English, ..."
    – gotube
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:18
  • @gotube That OP said so in his/her question. So, it's a known fact to DialFrost.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:21
  • Ah. The problem then is that "given" replaces "if", not "in the first place". You can still add it to your rephrasing: "This is especially important given you rarely speak English in the first place." So your rephrasing doesn't affect your question about the phrase, "in the first place".
    – gotube
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:24

1 Answer 1

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It matches the first meaning, although it's not obvious - Merriam-Webster has a more precise definition of that usage:

—used at the end of a sentence to indicate what was true or what should have been done at the beginning of a situation

We should never have gone there in the first place.

I didn't care much for the job in the first place.

So one way to explain the meaning is that there's an issue X (for example, "I lost my job", "we got lost in the woods", "I need to speak English more often"), but there's also a broader issue Y that encompasses X ("I never liked that job", "we shouldn't have gone there", "I rarely speak English").

In your specific case in the first place is rather unnecessary, but not wrong - it's used more for emphasis, to indicate that the dedicated practice is important in all cases, but it's especially important if you already rarely get to speak English.

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  • I don't see how this definition fits here. This definition obviously means something should happen preceding in time. But DialFrost was talking about that OP's situation.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 15:26
  • By the way, 'I never liked that job' does not encompass 'I lost my job'- they are two things. So are your other example.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 15:29
  • But you would say it if you were no longer in that job, or were soon to leave it. Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:17
  • @KateBunting But that does not meet the definition in dictionaries. Dunno if his use is some kind of language bending.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:35

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