Why do we use ‘first, second,..’ and not ‘firstly, secondly…’?


When listing things there is a convention that the first item is introduced as first rather than firstly, although the following items can be said to be secondlythirdlyfourthly, etc.

The reason for this is that first early on had a role as an adverb, and the use of firstly, though established by the 17c, was felt to be an unnecessary affectation. Today this rule is considered outdated, and a variety of sequences are sometimes used:

First…, secondly…, thirdly

Firstly…, secondly…, thirdly

Firstly…, second…, third

The first two of these examples are both usually considered acceptable, but the third should normally be avoided.

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