‘First’ or ‘Firstly’?

The ins and outs of enumeration.

Mignon Fogarty
1-minute read


First and second are better choices than firstly and secondly for two reasons:

First, the shorter versions serve the same purpose as the longer versions. Shorter is often considered better in such cases.

Second, the -ly forms get awkward when you reach bigger numbers such as seventhly and eighthly.

I’ve been known to disagree with Strunk and White, but in this case, I like their take on the matter: “Do not dress words up by adding ly to them, as though putting  a hat on a horse.”

And for heaven’s sake, don’t mix the two forms! If you start with first, second is next, not secondly

Recently, I saw someone complain that all uses of enumeration are clumsy elementary-school style, but I disagree and still use enumeration in my writing when it seems appropriate. I believe enumeration can make arguments easier to follow, although sometimes a bulleted list is a good choice too.


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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.