1. a first

I had a cup of tea, then a second, then a third.

Is it possible to say: I had a first cup of tea, then a second ...?

2. Re: a first

Yes, but only if you are sure before you start it that there will be at least one more.

b

3. Re: a first

Originally Posted by BobK
Yes, but only if you are sure before you start it that there will be at least one more.

b
I think that if you are recounting an experience you could say 'I had a first, then a second ...'

4. Re: a first

Originally Posted by bhaisahab
I think that if you are recounting an experience you could say 'I had a first, then a second ...'
Yes - my words 'before you start' referred to the report. If you use a past tense, then you must know if the first preceded a second. Sorry

b

5. Re: a first

It seems if a succession is complete and we know how many elements it consists of, 'the' is used.

e.g. We had three drinks during that hour. The first one was taken at 5:15, the second - at 5:30, and the third - at 5:45.

Let's look at this situation from a different perspective, as an unfolding chain of events.

Cf.: We took a first drink at 5:15, then talked for some time and took a second one at 5:30. In a quarter of an hour we had a third drink.

It looks if we characterize each element of a closed succession, 'the' is used: the first, the second, etc. And if we deal with an open succession, we use 'a': a first, a second, etc.

Does it make any sense?

6. Re: a first

The sequence doesn't have to be closed: "After the long walk, we stopped for the first [of several] drink[s]" - in that case, the use of 'the first' implies that there were going to be more (possibly several).

b

7. Re: a first

Originally Posted by BobK
The sequence doesn't have to be closed: "After the long walk, we stopped for the first [of several] drink[s]" - in that case, the use of 'the first' implies that there were going to be more (possibly several).

b
Then the problem of distinguishing between 'a first' and 'the first' looks even more complex.

I believe in your sentence the stress is made on the fact that it was their first drink since they started walking. So 'the' is motivated not by the implication that there were going to be more but by their not having had it before in the given period of time.

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