In(the) first place

Posted by on November 18th, 2016 | 0 comments | coherence, IELTS, speaking, Task 1, Task 2, vocabulary, writing

In the first place is over-grazing, which caused 35% of land degradation.

Not a terrible error – we know what you mean! But still, it’s important to understand the distinction between ‘in first place’ and ‘in the first place’.
In IELTS Task 1 writing we often find ourselves ranking items as follows:

  • In first place is over-grazing, which caused 35% of land degradation. Meanwhile in second place, 20% of land degradation was caused by deforestation.

But what if you’re listing rather than ranking? Let’s say, for example, that you’re listing supports for an argument. In this case you need ‘in the first place’, ‘in the second place’, etc.:

  • Mr Jones cannot be the one who stole your car. In the first place he was in a different city when the car was stolen, and secondly he is blind!

In this case ‘in the first place‘ means ‘as the first consideration‘. It’s often used to introduce reasons that should be obvious but may need to be emphasised, as in the above example. Notice that it is unusual to continue ‘in the second place‘, ‘in the third place‘, etc. Better to switch to ‘secondly‘, ‘thirdly‘, and so on.
To sum up..

  • In first place..’ is useful in Task 1 writing (for ranking)
  • In the first place..’ is useful in Task 2 writing (for emphasising reasons)


Me describing the information in my IELTS test..

In detail, sleeping was top of the list of hobbies preferred by Indonesians. a full 90% said that they enjoy sleeping. In second place was other hobbies, which were liked by about half of respondents, and in last place reading only caught the interest of around 5% of those surveyed.

Me chatting to my friend later about the information..

I’m not at all surprised about the lack of interest in reading. In the first place books are expensive in Indonesia, and in the second place reading is a solitary activity and as we know, Indonesians prefer doing things together with other people. And the result for sleeping doesn’t surprise me either! In the first place it’s very hot and humid in Indonesia and this can make you very sleepy. And in the second place Indonesians need to concentrate hard on the road – to avoid death – and this, too, can be exhausting!

TIP! If you’re doing this in IELTS Speaking, it can sometimes help you to structure an argument if you count off items using your fingers, perhaps under the table!

PS. See also my earlier post dealing with ‘in second place’ instead of ‘second winner’ (which does NOT mean ‘in second place’!).

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