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I was wondering if it would be grammatically and idiomatically correct to use to begin with in the sense of

used at the end of a sentence to talk about why something was done or whether it should have been done or not

For example :

If you don’t like her, why invite her in the first place?

I should never have taken that job in the first place.

Is it possible to say :

If you don’t like her, why invite her to begin with?

I should never have taken that job to begin with.

  • 1
    Interesting. I'd always choose the 'in the first place' option, but the fourth sentence sounds not unacceptable. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 8 '16 at 19:41
  • @Edwin Ashworth - Sentence #3 doesn't quite get one slain by the fords of Jordan either. It does ring a trifle oddly for reasons I can't quie articulate. – Rob_Ster Apr 9 '16 at 1:23
  • Why add either? Don't the original sentences convey the same meaning in the form 'If you don't like her, why invite her?' and 'I should never have taken that job.' – Icy Apr 9 '16 at 4:27
  • @Icy The terminal 'in the first place' is idiomatic if redundant, and has a pragmatic role (emphasis) and a prosodic role. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 9 '16 at 9:06
  • @Rob “quie” should be quite? – P Smith Feb 9 '18 at 1:14
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Yes, you can use it. You can google it and check for references; here's one that you can bear out, from Invincible By Dustin Humphreys.

"Listen, we should never have taken that job to begin with," he said.

  • 1
    Hello, Danelly. A single or a few Google hits don't license a usage as standard. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 8 '18 at 20:55
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    They mean the same thing, but if you say "first", you are implicitly promising at least one labelled "second", to follow, if not more. This is not true of to begin with. – John Lawler Feb 8 '18 at 22:49
  • @JohnLawler, that's part of what makes a term/phrase idiomatic, that is to say, it may not make a great deal of sense except as it's contextually understood via a priori usages. As to 'standard' idioms.. once an idiomatic expression is standard it can hardly be considered idiomatic any longer. – Giu Piete Feb 26 '19 at 17:50
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Both are used, "in the first place" more than "to begin with".
I've done three Google Ngram queries but take them with a grain of salt.
The first one is a general search of the phrases not considering their position in the sentence.
The second one does take the position at the end of the sentence into account but since Ngram can't do START or END operations with longer phrases the results are only for "first place" and "begin with".
So they're also not as accurate as I'd like them to be.
The third one is done with a "." at the end of the phrase but that excludes sentences that end with "!" or "?" or any thing else.
In the end both are valid I think.

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"Never end a sentence in a preposition" is what they always told me in school. Therefore, I usually say "in the first place".

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Ah, I can't compete with these other answers! I will still express my opinion though. I think that all of the examples you asked about are grammatically correct, although I do feel that "in the first place" is more commonly used and sounds better. Still, they are interchangeable. I have also looked at some other sites, as this question seems to be one that is frequently asked, although do take each response in these sites with a grain of salt; they are written by people who may not be entirely correct.

https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/to-begin-with-vs-in-the-first-place.3594621/ https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/threads/132798-in-the-first-place-or-To-begin-with-correct

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    Welcome to EL&U. This reads more like a comment than an answer, but stick around and you'll be able to leave comments soon. Please take a moment to tour the site. When you include links, it helps to quote the relevant material in the answer. – livresque Oct 4 '20 at 4:20
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In both cases, these “add-ons” at the end of the sentences are slang expressions. “In the first place” implies there is a second place, a third place, etc. “To begin with” implies there is a “to continue with” and a “to end with.” Although both of these expressions are expectable as slang expressions go (I use them myself), they are both grammatically incorrect, with no correct alternatives.

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    Have you references supporting your views? Many idioms are extra-grammatical but totally acceptable, many even in formal registers. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 26 '19 at 14:10

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