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

Can I use it in formal letters?

  • 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.
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 10:49
  • I see.. Could you give some examples? :)
    – Fokos
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 13:13
  • 2
    To me I think it would be more informal. In a formal setting, I would use To begin with...
    – user3169
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 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.
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 20:43
  • You are right. I will elaborate more in my next questions.
    – Fokos
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


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.

  • 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
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 17:06
  • 1
    @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). Commented Feb 22, 2015 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
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 17:32
  • @FumbleFingers, Does the metaphoric connotation still applies for "openers"?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 0:52
  • @Pacerier: See this usage chart showing that this use of for openers has negligible currency compared to for starters (and it's almost exclusively a relatively recent AmE usage, very rare in BrE)... Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 12:33

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