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To be more specific, I'm referring to a sentence of the following type:

The next event will be even bigger than the last.

In the case that the "next" event is the second event and the "last" event is the first, the following sentence is also correct and equivalent:

The next event will be even bigger than the first.

Are there any guidelines on which of the two should be used in this scenario?

  • Using "next" with "first" is odd: "next" would normally either go with "the previous one" or "the one before" (usually the latter). Conversely, if you're using "first", you would refer to the following event as the "second" event. – Max Williams May 13 '16 at 8:16
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There are many ambiguities in natural language, many of which are resolved via context.

In your example, you connect the word next with the word last by comparing the next event against the last. This makes the last a past event relative to the next event, and not the one at the completion of the series of events (also called the last event). That the last event is also the first event is irrelevant.

Are there any guidelines on which of the two should be used in this scenario?

The event to which both last event and first event refer is clear from the context, so ambiguity is not a problem. Since you're using that event as the basis for evaluating the next, the natural pairing is next vs previous or next vs last. If, however, the first event was particularly noteworthy (famous keynote speaker, fireworks, etc), then it would make sense to use the first event as the benchmark for comparison.

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