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Is it grammatically correct to sequence paragraphs using First, Second, Third, and Finally?

If not, is there a good word that replaces Finally? Starting a paragraph with Final doesn't sound correct. I could change all of the other words (e.g., First becomes Firstly), but I prefer the shorter versions. Last is the best replacement I can come up with, but it doesn't sound as fluid as Finally.

Forgive me for my painful-to-read example paragraphs. I'm not the most creative human being.

First, I grabbed a spoon.

Second, I ate the cereal.

Third, I drank the milk.

Finally, I tossed the bowl in the dish washer.

  • I get the feeling many speakers (Americans in particular) don't much like firstly, secondly,... lastly, but if you're determined not to simply number the paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4 that might be the most consistent approach. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '14 at 20:02
  • @FumbleFingers This article might help explain why some people prefer the short version. I have to question whether the preference is more prominent among Americans, but I can't find any useful information that points either way. – Rainbolt Jun 3 '14 at 20:13
  • When I posted that comment half-an-hour ago, it really was just a feeling I had, based on comments some (mainly American) users have posted here on ELU in the past. But since you've questioned it, I just checked this NGram, which seems to support what I said. Toggle between US/UK corpuses, note both the shape of the charts and the left-hand "prevalence" scales, and I think you'll agree with me. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '14 at 20:36
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    But here's some advice you may find useful. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '14 at 20:47
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    I didn't think of that "explanation" - the mere fact that you did suggests you could get to be pretty good at mining NGrams/Google Books for information. On the other hand, I already knew the answer I "wanted", which is often a handicap in such contexts. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '14 at 21:00
20

Yes, first, second...finally is fine, as is ...lastly. And firstly, secondly...finally/lastly is also fine. I would probably refrain from using ?last or *final.

Note that the (most) traditional sequence is first, secondly, thirdly...lastly; don't be afraid of "inconsistencies" in idiom! See my earlier answer on ELL and Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition).

The Oxford English Dictionary on firstly:

Used only in enumerating heads, topics, etc. in discourse; and many writers prefer first, even though closely followed by secondly, thirdly, etc.

Burchfield in Fowler's Modern English Usage on first:

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  • @Rusher: Firstly, I think we have to accept that you really are just a failure at operating Google's ngram. Obviously there are many other contexts besides numbering "bullet points" where only first can be used in the first place (there's one, for example). Mind you, even if you'd composed a truly representative NGram, I'm sure the -ly versions would be relatively uncommon. Nevertheless, I suspect Cerberus's "traditional" is reasonably accurate here. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '14 at 20:45
  • @Rusher: ... Secondly, (! :) When I started writing, I did actually intend to make at least one or two more points - but there's a limit to what you can cram into a comment here. Also don't conflate my "feelings" and "suspicions" with Cerberus's text. He almost certainly has far more "formal knowledge" in such matters than me. – FumbleFingers Jun 3 '14 at 21:05
  • @Rusher: Perhaps the quotations I have added to my answer will convince you that it is indeed true. Statistics rarely help when you're researching style. – Cerberus Jun 4 '14 at 3:47
  • @Rusher: No apology needed. I did not give any references for that bit about first, secondly, thirdly at first because it was only a note, but I guess it is better now. – Cerberus Jun 4 '14 at 17:26
  • First, since the question is really about rhetoric rather than grammar, I would say that you absolutely should worry about inconsistencies. Parallelism is one of the easiest ways to make content easier to read and absorb. And B, (see? it's jarring.) I disagree with your advice not to use "last". It's just as fine to use "last" as it is to use "first". – G. Ann - SonarSource Team Jul 22 '16 at 17:47
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If you feel awkward starting paragraphs with firstly, secondly etc. consider the following expressions as suitable equivalents.

  • Initially OR to start with (less formal) = first(ly)
  • Then / next / after that / afterwards = later
  • In addition / additionally = second(ly)
  • Furthermore / moreover OR what's more (less formal) = third(ly)
  • In conclusion / lastly OR in the end (less formal)= finally

To start with, I grabbed a spoon.
Then I took a bowl and filled it with cereal
Next, I poured some milk into my bowl.
Afterwards I began to eat my cereal and when I'd finished, I drank the milk.
In the end, I tossed the bowl in the dishwasher.

  • Should I use comma after each of them? @Mari-Lou A – alper May 15 '18 at 17:58
  • For example, could I use comma after afterwards on your given example? @Mari-Lou A – alper May 15 '18 at 18:21
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    @Alper you usually use a comma after these words if they begin a sentence, but with "then" and "afterwards" (UK) or "afterward" (US) you need to be more careful. Look them up in a good dictionary that gives examples. The comma could go between afterwards and I began but I don't think it's essential. – Mari-Lou A May 15 '18 at 18:22
  • I think this is the right approach, but maybe you need to be more explicit about the fact that a numerical sequence isn't always called for. – Spencer Oct 7 '18 at 15:50
2

The following seem to fit into your example:

  • Lastly...
  • Last...
  • And in the end...
  • To finish...

protected by tchrist Jan 4 '17 at 2:12

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