How To Say First In Russian

how to say first in russian

“First” is one of those words that make students learning Russian think about the meaning in a given context and consider which of the various possible Russian words is the most appropriate.

Ordinal Number

“First” can be an ordinal number indicating relative position in a series (second, third, fifth, tenth, etc.).

Первый (first) is one of the exceptions that doesn’t derive from its corresponding cardinal number like, for example, пятый – fifth (from пять – five). Russian ordinal numbers decline like hard-stem adjectives:

Вот первая страница отчёта. – Here is the first page of the report.
Вы можете найти эту информацию на двадцать первой странице книги. You can find this information on the twenty first page of the book.
Мы отмечаем этот праздник первого мая. – We celebrate this holiday on the first of May.
Этот спортсмен почти всегда приходит к финишу первым. – This athlete almost always finishes first.

Ordinal Adverb

Ordinal (or ordering) adverbs are used to enumerate related points: first(ly), second(ly), third(ly).
“Во-первых” is often used when providing reasons.

Мы готовы работать с этим автором. Во-первых, его идеи кажутся интересными. Во-вторых, нам нравится, как он пишет. В-третьих, у него есть популярный блог.
We are ready to work with this author. First, his ideas seem interesting. Second, we like his writing style. Third, he runs a popular blog.

NB! Don’t confuse “во-первых” and “впервые”. The latter means “first time”.

Он здесь впервые. – It’s his first time here.

Telling Stories

“Сначала” is often confused with “во-первых”. However, it is very different and means also “as a first thing”. It is actually opposite to “затем” (then) or “потом” (later) and often used when talking about a sequence of events.

Сначала я пошёл в магазин, а потом в кино. – First, I went to the shop and then to the cinema.
Мы сначала были согласны, а потом изменили своё мнение. – We agreed first but then changed our mind.

(“Во-первых” wouldn’t work in both of these cases.)

NB! “сначала” looks similar to the word “начала” which can be a form of the words начать (to begin) or начало (beginning).
Когда она начала изучать русский? When did she start to learn Russian?
Хорошее начало!It’s a good start!

When you want to be precise, use “в начале” which can be followed by a noun in the Genitive case:

В начале урока учитель объяснил новое правило. – At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher explained a new rule.
В начале текста было несколько новых слов, которые я не знал. – At the beginning of the text, there were some new words that I didn’t know.

Do the exercise below to practise how to use the Russian word for “first” correctly. Choose the correct option:

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