Firsthand or first-hand?

First-hand is the standard spelling for British English. American English prefers firsthand.

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What is the difference between firsthand and first-hand?

Did you witness something with your own eyes or ears? Are you explaining something from personal experience? If so, you’re experiencing something first hand or providing a firsthand account. But if you live outside of the United States, first-hand is preferred over firsthand.

Use firsthand for American English and first-hand for British English

The spelling of “firsthand” is exclusive to American English, and that’s whether you use it as an adjective or adverb. “First-hand” (with a hyphen) is the standard spelling for British English and most English-speaking regions outside the U.S. 

When is firsthand or first-hand written as two words?

All English writers use “first hand” as two words for the adverbial phrase “at first hand.” In this case, the phrase means ‘directly or from personal experience.’ For example, 

  • “Did you verify the source at first hand?” 
  • “I can’t imagine what she experienced first hand.”

What does firsthand mean?

The word firsthand is an adjective and adverb that describes something as completed, working without interference, or received from the original source. As an adverb, the term is synonymous with the phrase “with one’s own ears” or “with one’s own eyes.” 

How to use firsthand as an adjective?

  • “The university gives writing majors a firsthand look at different careers they can achieve after college.” 
  • “You can gain firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to work at Harpercollins Publishers.”
  • “The internship provides students with firsthand experience in the publishing world.” 

How to use firsthand as an adverb?

  • “There are some short stories that describe industries firsthand.” 
  • “It’s the kind of experience you need to see firsthand.” 
  • “There may be a witness who experienced the event firsthand.” 
  • “You’ll need to read the word of the day firsthand.”

Synonyms of firsthand

Adj.: Direct, hands-on, empirical, experiential, immediate, personal, primary, proximate, unmediated.

Adv.: At first hand, directly, from the original source, immediately, personally, with one’s own ears, with one’s own eyes.

Antonyms of firsthand

Adj.: Indirect, secondhand.

How to use firsthand and first-hand in a sentence?

The correct spelling for American English is “firsthand.” If you’re writing for a non-American audience, the correct spelling “first-hand.” 

Published examples of firsthand

  • “Intelligence agencies kept track of the Yugoslavs going to the meeting but could not get firsthand information.” — The New York Times
  • “… ’90s alternative rock—both the heavier and folkier varieties—has now become part of the musical conversation for those who were too young to experience it firsthand.” — Wall Street Journal
  • “… a grass-roots effort to build a historical archive of firsthand stories from the darkest — and, because of pervasive censorship, least-understood — periods of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule.” — Los Angeles Times

Published examples of first-hand

  • “… recording the extinctions often relied on knowledge shared by Indigenous elders living in remote parts of the country who had experienced them first-hand.” — The Guardian
  • “After witnessing the damaging effects of overconsumption first-hand from working at a clothing brand, she launched Before July in 2019.” — British Vogue
  • “BBC Future got first-hand experience when one of our journalists volunteered to participate in the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial…” — BBC 

Additional reading

If you enjoy learning about American vs. British English, check out The Word Counter’s lessons on topics, such as: 

Test Yourself!

Test your understanding of firsthand vs. first-hand with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false?: The main difference between firsthand and first-hand is that Americans prefer “first-hand” and the British prefer “firsthand.”
    a. True
    b. False
  2. The word firsthand is not a ____________.
    a. Adjective
    b. Noun
    c. Adverb
    d. A and C
  3. Choose the best synonym for firsthand or first-hand.
    a. Unabridged
    b. Immanent 
    c. Immediate
    d. Third-hand
  4. You’re less likely to see the phrase “first-hand news” if you live in ___________.
    a. England
    b. Australi
    c. The United States
    d. South Africa
  5. Which of the following is correct?
    a. “At first hand”
    b. “Firsthand experience”
    c. “Experienced first-hand”
    d. All of the above

Answers

  1. B
  2. B
  3. C
  4. C
  5. A

Sources

  1. Associated Press, The. “Serbs and Iraqis Met, U.S. Says.” The New York Times, nytimes.com, 30 Mar 1999. 
  2. BBC Future Team. “What we know and don’t know about Covid-19.” BBC, bbc.com, 28 Feb 2021.
  3. Cary, A. “14 Independent Brands On A Mission To Change The Fashion Landscape.” British Vogue, vogue.co.uk, 24 Nov 2020.
  4. Firsthand.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021. 
  5. Firsthand.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  6. First-hand.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  7. Kaiman, J. “Survivors tell the camera the hidden tale of China’s Great Famine.” Los Angeles Times, latimes.com, 14 Oct 2015.
  8. Morton, A. “Australia confirms extinction of 13 more species, including first reptile since colonisation.” The Guardian, theguardian.com, 3 Mar 2021. 
  9. Richardson, M. “The Sound of the ’90s Is Alive.” Wall Street Journal, wsj.com, 28 Dec 2020.