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What is the meaning of the phrase "in the first place" and how to use it in a sentence. I have heard this phrase couple of times in the debates on the news channels and also in some other programs. I tried to find out the meaning of this phrase on the Internet but Internet was not of much help so I want a deep explanation on the meaning of this phrase and also on the usage of this phrase.

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    When searching the Internet, you may want to use a search engine such as Google. If you choose to do so, you can enclose the search string in quotation marks in order to employ the verbatim search option. Moreover, you may want to consider searching for the desired string in a dictionary such as this one. Also, provide context. – userr2684291 Apr 7 '16 at 15:34
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In most contexts, in the first place [assertion A] is a somewhat metaphoric usage where first doesn't really have anything to do with the temporal sense of A being in some way earliest in time.

It's usually used in contexts where there are several relevant factors that might be mentioned by the speaker. But assertion A is the most important one (and/or the one from which further supporting assertions logically follow, and the speaker intends to go on and make those further assertions).

In short, it's sense 2 in oxforddictionaries: first - Foremost in position, rank, or importance.


USAGE NOTE: The metaphorical usage referred to above almost always occurs before the relevant assertion. Consider...

1: In the first place John was there.
(The fact that John was there is central to the points I'm about to make.)

2: John was there in the first place.
(John was already there before whatever happened next that I'm going to tell you about.)

It's also worth noting that usage #1 generally occurs in contexts where the speaker is refuting, or disagreeing with someone else's prior assertion (you wouldn't be so likely to use it as the opening line to start a conversation or make a point).

  • Can we use the phrase 'AT the first place'? – Max Apr 12 '17 at 15:45
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    @Max: No. You can only use at in a literal context, such as We stopped for a drink at the first place that was willing to serve us. Or if you get rid of the word place so it's just a matter of chronology/sequence, as in John was there at first (but he left later). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 12 '17 at 15:50
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The definition from dictionary.com:

  1. From the beginning, at the outset, before anything else. For example, Why didn't you tell me in the first place that you've decided to leave? or He could have bought a new one in the first place.
  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, as in I'm not joining the health club because, in the first place, I don't like their hours, and in the second place, I can't afford the dues. [ First half of 1600s ]

It is often used in debates if you have several things you are about to cover. For example:

A: Mr. B has repeatedly beaten his wife with a poker.
B: In the first place, I don't have a wife. In the second place my poker hasn't left the hearth in 30 years.

  • I think B would be better off saying, "First, I don't have a wife. Secondly, my poker hasn't left the hearth..." Moreover, I don't think the second meaning from dictionary.com is used all that often; that would explain the relatively large drop-off in this Ngram. – J.R. Apr 7 '16 at 17:22
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In the first/second place:

used to ​separate and ​emphasize ​reasons or ​opinions:

I don't ​want to go ​yet - in the first place I'm not ​ready, and in the second place it's ​raining.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online

"In the first place" basically means "as the first point of consideration" and is often used when chastising someone for not following advice:

We wouldn't have gotten so soaked if you'd thought to buy an umbrella in the first place!

The implication here is that at some point the person being chastised had an opportunity to buy an umbrella, but declined to do so.

  • I must say I'm a little dubious about your example. Metaphorical in the first place is a well-established idiomatic usage with the sense of primarily. But to my mind in the second place is so rarely used in such contexts that it comes across to me as almost "facetious" wordplay. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 12 '17 at 16:04
  • this example might explain where the expression comes from: "we wouldn't have had to go to the second place, if you had bought the umbrella in the first place." – Hector von Apr 12 '17 at 16:13

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