Page:A Desk-Book of Errors in English.djvu/233
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Errors in English
two first: Of this expression James Murdock says: "The only argument against the use of two first, and in favor of substituting first two, so far as I can recollect, is this: In the nature of things, there can be only one first and one last, in any series of things. But—is it true that there can never be more than one first and one last? If it be so, then the adjective first and last must always be of the singular number, and can never agree with nouns in the plural. We are told that the first years of a lawyer's practise are seldom very lucrative. The poet tells us that his first essays were severely handled by the critics, but his last efforts have been well received. Examples like these might be produced without number. They occur everywhere in all our standard writers.... When a numeral adjective and a qualifying epithet both refer to the same noun, the general rule of the English language is to place the numeral first, then the qualifying epithet, and afterwards the noun. Thus we say, 'The two wise men,' 'the two tall men'; and not 'the wise two men' 'the tall two men.' And the same rule holds in superlatives. We say 'the two wisest men,' 'the two tallest men' and not 'the wisest two men,' 'the tallest two men.' Now if this be admitted to be the general rule of the English language, it then follows that we should generally say 'the two
twice one is two; for it can not be that two (as a single and specific number) are twice one.