Many Ways to Say 'First' in Korean

Let's take a look at different ways we can say first in Korean language. 

- is placed before nouns such as first lovefirst snowfirst day.

엄마 첫사랑은 누구예요?
(Mom), who is your first love?

오늘은 첫눈이 내렸어.
The first snow fell today.

첫날에 우리가 많이 사웠어.
We fought hard on the first day.

첫번째- is used when enumerating things in a sequence as in an essay, speech, or instruction.

첫번째 넣으세요.
First, put some water.

첫번째 우리 나라에는 'mano  po' 이라는 문화가 있어요.
First, there is a culture called 'mano po' in our country.

첫번째한국인들은 감옥에서 나갈  두부를 먹어요.
First, Koreans eat tofu when they get out of jail.

첫째- is interchangeable with 첫번째 but it can also be used to refer to the first child in a family.

우리 첫째는 이제 군대에  거야.
My first child is now going to the army.

우리 첫째 남자야.
My first child is a boy.

우리 첫째 서울대 입학했어.
My first child made it to Seoul University.

처음- is used with verbs to mean the first time to do something. We can attach some particles to it like –, -으로, and 부터.

처음에 광수가  동생인  물랐어.
At first, I didn’t know that Gwangsoo is your little brother.

언제 처음으로 남자친구를 생겼어?
When was the first time you had a boyfriend?

남자 이렇게 많이 우는  처음 봐요.
It is my first time to see a man cry like this.

우선 and 일단- are commonly confused words. Sometimes, they are interchangeable. Sometimes, they’re not. 우선 is more of before anything else while 일단 is more of for the time being. But in the case where you have done something already, only 일단 is used. Here are two examples.

일단 (우선우리는 주말 계획을 세워야 .
First, we should make plans for the weekend.

일단 계획을 세웠으니 돈을  모으자.
Since we’ve already made plan, let’s get some money first.

먼저- also means first and is interchangeable with 우선. It is also often used in commands.

 먼저 갈게.
I will go first (ahead).

먼저 말이 있어.
First, I have something to tell you.

니가 먼저 .
You do it first.

- means rank and it is attached to numbers. Hence, to say someone is first in rank, we say 1 (read as 일등).

누가 1등을 했어요?
Who got first place?

1 해야지.
I have to be first place.
I have to win.

1등은 강다니엘입니다.
The first placer is Kang Daniel.