I was listening a song. The lines are,

One, my last album flopped
Two, it wasn't my time
Three, my f***in' mama's selling my pajamas online

The use of One, two three is quite new to me. I have heard phrases like,

First, I did this. Second I went there.

Firstly I want money, and secondly peace.

My question is when to use One-Two-Three and when to use First-Second-Third and when to use Firstly-Secondly-Thirdly?

  • FYI Song lyrics are often very informal, and (like poetry) often bend the rules.
    – zwol
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 1:11
  • @zwol Are the rules bend in the case I've mentioned in the question?
    – user31782
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 5:56

2 Answers 2


Ordinals are used to describe something's order in a sequence. These are the "first, second, third" words you have mentioned. However, numbers by themselves can be used to denote points on a list.

Therefore, we should use ordinals when describing things to do in sequence:

First, we need to till the soil. Second, we'll plant the flower seeds. After that, it's just a matter of waiting.

On the other hand, if someone has multiple, separate points to address, they might verbally number them for emphasis:

Speaker A: What's wrong with you?

Speaker B: Well, for one, my feet are killing me after standing around all day in these heels. Two, I'm starting to get a migrane. Three, I just found out the train is out of service today so I'll have to pay for a ride home.

Ordinals can be used in the second example, too, but it implies that the points are listed in order of most important to least important. Adding -ly to the end just turns the ordinal into its adverb form.


They are interchangeable. Use whichever you are accustomed to, or whichever sounds good to you at the time. In addition, you can count using letters of the alphabet.

  • 1
    I don't think they are interchangeable. As Crazy eyes has told, First-Second are used when there is an order associated. On the other hand when we use One-two there is no order and we can state the sentence starting with two at first also by just rephrasing it with one in place of two.
    – user31782
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 5:55
  • Nah, it's a in one's imagination. Wishful thinking. I can say "first" and then something just because it came first to my head to say, and then say "second" simply because I just thought of it after the one I just expressed. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 12:30
  • Can we say " One, we need to till the soil. two, we'll plant the flower seeds. After that, it's just a matter of waiting"?
    – user31782
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 13:14
  • Why can't we? The order is expressed in either "First, second..." or in "one, two..." or in "A, b, ..." It would be silly to say that "first, second" implies the order, while "one, two" doesn't. Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 13:17
  • I still have some doubt. E.g. Bob: Why didn't they let you watch the movie? Joe: One, I look small. Two, I was clean shaved. In this scenario I can switch one with two --> "Joe: One, I was clean shaved. Two, I look small.". Now consider "First, we need to till the soil. Second, we'll plant the flower seeds." Here I can't switch first with second because there is an order associated. My question is can we change First with Second in some scenario?
    – user31782
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 13:25

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