Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English

First, firstly or at first?

from English Grammar Today

First and firstly

First can be an adjective or an adverb and refers to the person or thing that comes before all others in order, time, amount, quality or importance:

What’s the name of the first person who walked on the moon? (adjective)

Beth always arrives first at meetings. (adverb)

We often use first, especially in writing, to show the order of the points we want to make. When we are making lists, we can use first or firstly. Firstly is more formal than first:

Dear Mr Yates

First(ly) I would like to thank you for your kind offer of a job

Not: At first I would like to thank you

First(ly) the sodium chloride is dissolved in the water and heated gently. Second(ly) a dye is added to the solution.

Not: At first, the sodium chloride

At first

At first means ‘at the beginning’ or ‘in the beginning’ and we use it when we make contrasts:

At first when I went to England to study English, I was homesick, but in the end I cried when it was time to leave.

He called for help. No one heard him at first, but eventually two young girls came to help him.

(“First, firstly or at first ?” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press. Need grammar practice? Try English Grammar Today with Workbook.)
Add Cambridge dictionaries to your browser to your website

Word of the Day

comma

the symbol , used in writing to separate parts of a sentence showing a slight pause, or to separate the single things in a list

Word of the Day

Lies, lies, lies!

by Kate Woodford,
February 25, 2015
​​​ According to sociologists (=people who study the relationships between people living in groups), we are good at lying. As a species, we have developed a remarkable ability to deceive each other (= persuade each other that something false is true). Being able to say things that are not true can help with

Read More 

snapchat verb

March 02, 2015
to send someone a message using the photomessaging application Snapchat We used to have a thing until he got a girlfriend. now

Read More