Thanks! Why cannot I use the words "Firstly, Secondly" instead of "First, Second"? I think this is the same

Dai Nghia

Thanks! Why cannot I use the words "Firstly, Secondly" instead of "First, Second"? I think this is the same

That is a very good question, and the short answer is these are out of use and becoming obsolete in American English and in business English. The ordinal numbers are fine in all Englishes, so it is best to practice with contemporary English.

https://www.grammarbook.com/homonyms/secondly-thirdly-fourthly.asp

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/firstly/


Here is a more detailed answer.

They are correct, but I advise strongly against learning or practicing them. Use the ordinal numbers instead.

https://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/numbers-ordinal.htm

Using the "-ly" forms in IELTS will not decrease your band score.

However, they are not used (especially "firstly") in 21st century American English. They have been replaced in all writing styles by the series "first, second..." . As an American English speaker, to my ear, "firstly" sounds awfully antiquated or excessively stilted and formal. It is not modern, contemporary English. I would never use them in my writing, formal or informal. They remain acceptable in today's British English, and you will see them in British publications, but, as in American English, they are falling into disuse.

The series "first, second, third" is accepted in all English varieties, especially business English.

For a longer series, the higher-sequence words "eighthly, eleventhly" are atrocious. They are "grammatical" though. I found them in a grammar text from 1862, and in a formal legal document from 1852, but few thereafter, which shows you the age of this usage and advice. The only modern day context for these words is in very formal legal documents. These words are relics of the past.

Here is evidence of the comparison of the frequency of the adverbs "first" and "firstly" in English books. Click on the blue links.

1. First is used as both an adjective and adverb, but mostly as an adjective.

2. Firstly is only used as an adverb .

3. When first as an adverb is compared to the adverb firstly , the overwhelming choice is "first."


The New York Times Manual on this subject is very clear.

I am, for the most part, a speaker of British English, so firstly, secondly, etc. sound fine and natural to me. That said, some British experts recommend using first, second, rather than firstly, secondly. It seems to me that there are three good reasons to prefer first. First(ly), it's shorter and still does the job. Second, it's accepted in all dialects of English. Third, if you have a long list, the -ly form starts getting cumbersome. Even a British speaker is likely to find eleventhly to be an awkward word.

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Blue JayI am, for the most part, a speaker of British English, so firstly, secondly, etc. sound fine and natural to me. That said, some British experts recommend using first, second, rather than firstly, secondly.

Thanks, BJ.

In the old days of prescriptive grammar, schools taught "firstly," being the adverb from, was preferred over the adjective form "first." To me, this is now a hypercorrection, especially in the context of American English.