2

Qui plus est, ce sont eux qui ont violé le traité les premiers !

= They are the ones who violated the treaty first!

I assume the speaker uses « les premiers » to express the idea of "it’s them, not us, who first ...".

So I wonder if I can consider this expression synonymous with « en premier »? This is the first time I have seen « les premiers » used as an adverbial phrase.

3

Yes you can use "les premiers" as an adverbial phrase, with the same meaning as "en premier". It would agree with whatever it's qualifying.

Examples:

Ils ont, les premiers, violé le traité

Ces puissances ont violé le traité les premières

Here's another equivalent construction:

Ils ont été les premiers à violer le traité

2

Yes, les premiers and en premier are synonymous here.

Note that there is quite a lot of flexibility about the word ordering here:

Qui plus est, ce sont eux qui ont violé le traité les premiers !

Qui plus est, ce sont eux qui ont, les premiers, violé le traité !

Qui plus est, ce sont eux qui, les premiers, ont violé le traité !

Qui plus est, ce sont eux les premiers qui ont violé le traité !

Qui plus est, ce sont les premiers qui ont violé le traité, eux !

Qui plus est, les premiers qui ont violé le traité, ce sont eux !

Note also that eux and les premiers must agree in gender and number while en premier as an adverbial phrase stays invariable:

Qui plus est, ce sont elles qui ont violé le traité les premières !

Qui plus est, c'est lui qui a violé le traité le premier !

  • Hi. So... Can I change it accordingly to "le premier", "la première" or "les premières"? Also, I suppose you can only place this expression at the end? {x} "qui ont les premiers violé le traité" – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 12 '17 at 2:37
  • @Alone-zee - yes I think it works, but I don't think you necessarily have to place it at the end. "Ce sont eux qui ont les premiers violé le traité" feels perfectly fine to me, of course in this case expressing quite a bit of emphasis on the fact that it is them who did it. – Frank Jan 12 '17 at 3:13

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