being before all others with respect to time, order, rank, importance, etc., used as the ordinal number of one: the first edition; the first vice president.
Music. highest or chief among several voices or instruments of the same class: first alto; first horn.
Automotive. low ( def 31 ).
(often initial capital letter) being a member of the household or an intimate acquaintance of the president of the U.S. or of the governor of a state: the First Lady; Checkers, the first dog.
before all others or anything else in time, order, rank, etc.
before some other thing, event, etc.: If you're going, phone first.
for the first time: She first visited Atlanta in 1980.
in preference to something else; rather; sooner: I'd die first.
in the first place; firstly.
the person or thing that is first in time, order, rank, etc.
the beginning.
the first part; first member of a series.
the voice or instrument that takes the highest or chief part in its class, especially in an orchestra or chorus.
a leader of a part or group of performers.
Automotive. low gear; first gear: She shifted into first and drove off.
the winning position or rank in a race or other competition.
Baseball. first base.
Usually, firsts. Commerce.
a product or goods of the first or highest quality.
goods produced according to specifications, without visible flaws.
Compare second1 ( def 23 ), third ( def 12 ).
British University.
first-class honors. Compare class ( def 18 ).
a person who has won such honors.
first and last, everything considered; above all else; altogether: First and last, it is important to know oneself.
first off, Informal. at the outset; immediately: He wanted to know first off why he hadn't been notified.
first thing, before anything else; at once; promptly: I'll call you first thing when I arrive.

before 1000; Middle English; Old English fyr(e)st (see fore1, -est); cognate with German Fürst prince

firstness, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
first (fɜːst)
1.  a.  coming before all others; earliest, best, or foremost
 b.  (as noun): I was the first to arrive
2.  preceding all others in numbering or counting order; the ordinal number of one. Often written: 1st
3.  rated, graded, or ranked above all other levels
4.  denoting the lowest forward ratio of a gearbox in a motor vehicle
5.  music
 a.  denoting the highest part assigned to one of the voice parts in a chorus or one of the sections of an orchestra: first soprano; the first violins
 b.  denoting the principal player in a specific orchestral section: he plays first horn
6.  first thing as the first action of the day: I'll see you first thing tomorrow
7.  first things first things must be done in order of priority
8.  (in negative constructions) the first thing even one thing: he doesn't know the first thing about me
9.  the beginning; outset: I knew you were a rogue from the first; I couldn't see at first because of the mist
10.  chiefly (Brit) education Full term: first-class honours degree an honours degree of the highest class
11.  something which has not occurred before: a first for the company
12.  the lowest forward ratio of a gearbox in a motor vehicle; low gear
13.  music
 a.  the highest part in a particular section of a chorus or orchestra
 b.  the instrument or voice taking such a part
 c.  the chief or leading player in a section of an orchestra; principal
14.  music a rare word for prime
15.  before anything else in order, time, preference, importance, etc: do this first; first, remove the head and tail of the fish
16.  first and last on the whole; overall
17.  from first to last throughout
18.  for the first time: I've loved you since I first saw you
19.  (sentence modifier) in the first place or beginning of a series of actions: first I want to talk about criminality
[Old English fyrest; related to Old Saxon furist, Old Norse fyrstr, German Fürst prince, one who is first in rank]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. fyrst "foremost," superlative of fore; from P.Gmc. *furisto (cf. O.H.G. furist, O.N. fyrstr, Dan. første, O.Fris. fersta, M.Du. vorste "first," Ger. Fürst "prince"), superlative of *fur-/*for-, from PIE *pro- (cf. Skt. pura "before, formerly;" see
pro-). First-class (1858) "is from the universities via the railways" [Weekley]; first-rate (1660s) is from classes of warships in the British navy. First aid is that given at the scene, pending the arrival of a doctor; firsthand (also first-hand, first hand) is attested from 1690s. First Lady as an informal title for the wife of a U.S. president was in use by 1908, short for First lady of the land.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

first (fûrst)

  1. Coming before all others in order or location.

  2. Occurring or acting before all others in time; earliest.

  3. Being the innermost digit, especially on a foot.

first n.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Abbreviations & Acronyms
Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types
The American Heritage® Abbreviations Dictionary, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


In addition to the idioms beginning with first, also see at first; at first blush; at first hand; cast the first stone; get to first base; if at first you don't succeed; in the first place; in the (first) flush of; love at first sight; not know beans (the first thing); of the first water; on a first-name basis.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
Researchers have taken only the first steps toward finding definitive answers
  to both of those questions.
Printing too much debt caused the current problem in the first place.
For the first time ever, a panda raised by humans was reintroduced into the
  wild today.
Astronomers report they have detected methane for the first time in the
  atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.
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