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What is the formality level of the phrase "for starters"?

Can I use it in formal letters?

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  • It really depends on context. I can think of instances where I would find it too informal to suit my purposes, but also places where I think it would be fine, even in a business letter. – J.R. Feb 22 '15 at 10:49
  • I see.. Could you give some examples? :) – Fokos Feb 22 '15 at 13:13
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    To me I think it would be more informal. In a formal setting, I would use To begin with... – user3169 Feb 22 '15 at 16:56
  • @Fokos: Actually, that's your job. (It would be easier to leave an answer if more details were provided in the question.) – J.R. Feb 22 '15 at 20:43
  • You are right. I will elaborate more in my next questions. – Fokos Feb 23 '15 at 17:32
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OED defines the relevant usage as...

starter 3a. phrase
as or for a starter, for starters - to begin with, for a start.
colloquial (orig. U.S.)

That sense was first recorded in 1873, but I'd say it's still a colloquial/informal usage today - as is this specialised "sub-sense" first recorded 1966...

3b A dish eaten as the first course of a meal, before the main course (also in plural). colloquial


Regardless of the "first use" dates above, I suspect many native speakers today (particularly, BrE) are like me, in that they would see OP's usage as a "metaphoric" reference to entrée/first course of a meal.

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  • Being in the States, I equated it with "for beginners", although in context I can certainly see it as fitting into either situation you mention (although we tend to think of the first course as an appetizer, not an entrée, and as Wikipedia just taught me, the usage of entrée to refer to a main course is unheard of outside North America!). – Pockets Feb 22 '15 at 17:06
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    @Samuel Lijin: No, unless you're in a very contrived context, the usage has nothing to do with starters = beginners (by implication, learners who haven't been learning long enough to know very much yet). – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '15 at 17:10
  • "For starters" is more like "to begin with". Oh...which I belatedly notice is actually in the cited definition. Anyway, I think I've heard "for beginners" used in that same sense--although that is definitely a very colloquial vulgarism. – elc Oct 6 '15 at 17:32

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