In the following sentence, the word order struck me as different from what I'm used to:

Madame Magloire était [...] toujours haletante, à cause de son activité d'abord, ensuite à cause d'un asthme.

In English, it's more natural to say:

Madame Magloire was [...] always out of breath,—in the first place, because of her activity, and in the next, because of her asthma.

The structure in English is: in the first place [some content], and in the next [some content].

Whereas in French it's: [some content] d'abord, ensuite [some content].

My question:

When expressing the idea, d'abord ... ensuite, is this word order common in French? In other words, is it common to have d'abord and ensuite side by side, as: [some content] d'abord, ensuite [some content]?

Or, is it more common to express it with the alternative structure: d'abord [some content], ensuite [some content] — that is, with some content in the middle of d'abord and ensuite?

2 Answers 2


Both options are found in French. In particular for short item it is perhaps more fequent to find a postponed "d'abord".

(ref., 1994 ) L'enfant d'abord, l'élève ensuite: du mini-tennis ... à ...

(ref., 2018) Les employés d'abord, les clients ensuite: Comment renverser ...

In my opinion, for average length items, the order which conforms with the preferred order in English has also in French a greater expressive import. In any case, the longer the part that is modified by "d'abord" the better it is to place that adverb before.

For short items the order "after" is found to confer to the assertion more pungency, but the reverse order is possible.

  • Ils n'arrivaient pas à comprendre toute la partie qui avait trait à la construction par des bénévoles sans expérience, d'abord, et ensuite ils leur manquait des références.

  • D'abord, ils n'arrivaient pas à comprendre toute la partie qui avait trait à la construction par des bénévoles sans expérience, (et) ensuite ils leur manquait des références. (preferable)

From this Google page the order "before" is more common.

Here is a case with a short content and position of "d'abord" after.

(ref., 2019) Les cités grecques de la province romaine d’Asie ont fondé dès le début de l’Empire des cultes d’Auguste et de sa famille d’abord, de l’ensemble des empereurs ensuite. ("d’Auguste et de sa famille" could have been placed after, however.)


I'd say "d'abord [some content], ensuite [some content]" is also the most common structure in French.

Nevertheless, the structure "[some content] d'abord, ensuite [some content]" is also totally OK. It is mostly used in a literary register.

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