Usage and Grammar

Q. I was taught that one cannot have a “first annual” of anything—that “inaugural” or “first-ever” were the appropriate terms. Lately, though, I have seen some college websites indicating that “first annual” is now acceptable. What is the CMOS ruling?

A. Your view is a popular one, but in referring to the first of many annual events, neither “inaugural” nor “first-ever” conveys clearly to the reader that it wasn’t the last. Surely “first annual” can refer to the first occurrence of what has since become an annual event. Although it doesn’t make much sense to use “first annual” to describe an event before the second annual one has taken place, banning the phrase altogether seems extreme.