English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm wondering which is the right usage between "the 1st" and "1st" in these sentences:

a) The United States ranked 1st in Bloomberg's Global Innovation Index.

b) The United States ranked the 1st in Bloomberg's Global Innovation Index.

I've seen a) in the news, however, it is like I've learned the definite article ('the') is required before an ordinal number (1st, 2nd, etc.)

Thank you.

share|improve this question
Your question might be a better fit for the English Language Learners Stack Exchange site than here. – tchrist Feb 24 '13 at 21:22
I don't know where you learned that "rule", but, I think you're applying it outside its intended scope. There are many contexts where ordinals don't require an article (such as, "Amanda's answer was posted first"). – J.R. Feb 24 '13 at 21:30
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I think a better rule is that when the ordinal is used as an adjective, an article is generally required:

He was the first person to land on the moon.

The green Camaro was the first car over the finish line.

With that, they became the third university to have over 1000 students.

When the ordinal number is used as an adverb, however, no article is called for:

The USA is ranked first in the survey.

I finished third.

John went fifth.

share|improve this answer

You're right, in your example, sentence (a) is heard in the news, and it is also correct, but 'the first' is used in cases like:

She was the first woman to become Prime Minister.

and when talking about events like the Olympics where medals are awarded for those places:

He was the first over the line.
He was the first from his nation to win a medal in that sport.
The first-place winner is Mo Farah, from Great Britain.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.