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Hi

Why is it correct to say that someone has mastered a second language instead of the second language.

I though we should always put "the" before ordinal numbers, though perhaps there are some exceptions.
Comments  
My mother tongue is a language I've spoken since I could talk.
I also speak a second language.
English is the language I learned as my mother tongue.
French is the second language I speak.
NewguestWhy is it correct to say that someone has mastered a second language instead of the second language ?
Because nobody knows which language it is. My second language is not the same as your second language.
CJ
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I see. Thanks. Emotion: wink
You're right: when referring to ordered lists you would normally say "the first", "the second" etc. So, if someone had been given a list of languages to learn in order, then you would say "he's mastered the first language", "he's mastered the second language" etc.

But, in fact, someone's "second language" isn't usually second on some preordained ordered list: it depends on ad hoc circumstances that vary from person to person. Because of this lack of specificity, "the" becomes "a".
Thanks Wordy!

But isn't there a rule which says that when there is no noun after first or second etc. we do not have to put "the" before ordinal number, e.g., He came first BUT He came as the first one.
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I just checked in my dictionary, and "first" in "He arrived first" is listed as an adverb. In "the first one" I think it's an adjective. So if know when to say "the red house", you should know when to say "the first house" as well. Emotion: smile
Newguest
Thanks Wordy!

But isn't there a rule which says that when there is no noun after first or second etc. we do not have to put "the" before ordinal number, e.g., He came first BUT He came as the first one.

Yes, sorry, when I said you would normally use "the", I was just talking about expressions similar to the one in your question ("I chose the first answer", "He was the second man to walk on the Moon", "Take the third road on the left" etc.)

"He came first" is fine. "He came as the first one" is unusual and has a different range of meanings, but is also correct in the right context. There are various other circumstances when "first", "second" etc. are preceded by neither "a" nor "the".
KooyeenI just checked in my dictionary, and "first" in "He arrived first" is listed as an adverb. In "the first one" I think it's an adjective. So if know when to say "the red house", you should know when to say "the first house" as well.

Hi

You're right it's an adverb (He arrived first), but it was just an example of a phrase without a noun (after "first"), as for "the first one" I thought that "one" substitutes for, e.g., "runner", "footballer" etc.

Thanks for your help guys. It's clearer now!
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