(being edited as of 12.13.2018)
(ㄉㄤ)(ㄋㄧˇ)(ㄧㄠˋ)(ㄒㄧㄢ)(ㄗㄨㄛˋ)(ㄇㄡˇ)(ㄐㄧㄢˋ)(ㄕˋ ㄑㄧㄤˊ)(ㄉㄜ˙ ㄕˊ ㄏㄡˋ)
(dāng)(nǐ)(yào)(xiān)(zuò)(mǒu)(jiàn)(shì qíng)(de. shí hòu)
(just at)(you)(to want)(first)(to do)(some)(measure word)(affair, matter)(when)
When you want to do something first
In everyday conversation, there is often the desire to communicate the order of things. What did you do first? What will you do first? In what order will you or did you get things done? If you only need to do one thing before getting to something else in particular use this structure:
ㄒㄧㄢ … ㄗㄞˋ
xiān … zài
first／before hand … then
Here are some examples:
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄒㄧㄢ)(ㄑㄩˋ)(ㄆㄠˇ ㄅㄨˋ), (ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄑㄩˋ)(ㄕㄤˋ ㄎㄜˋ)
(wǒ)(xiān)(qù)(pǎo bù), (zài)(qù)(shàng kè)
(I)(first)(to go)(to run), (then)(to go)(attend lesson/class)
First, I will go run, then I will go to my lesson.
(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄏㄨㄟˋ)(ㄒㄧㄢ)(ㄔ)(ㄈㄢˋ), (ㄌㄞˋ)(ㄕㄨㄟˋ ㄐㄧㄠˋ)
(wǒ)(huì)(xiān)(chī)(fàn), (zài)(shuì jiào)
(I)(will)(first)(to eat)(meal), (then)(to sleep)
First I will eat, then sleep.
When in conversation, it may not be necessary to specify the subject of the sentence, if the remark is easily understood in context. For instance, a parent might say to a child who has asked for a certain snack…
(ㄒㄧㄢ)(ㄒㄧˇ)(ㄕㄡˇ), (ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄔ)(ㄅㄧㄥˇ ㄍㄢ)
(xiān)(xǐ)(shǒu), (zài)(chī)(bǐng gān)
(first)(to wash)(hand), (then)(to eat)(cookie)
First, wash your hands, then (you may) eat a cookie.
Or you might simply inform someone that:
(ㄒㄧㄢ)(ㄍㄟˇ)(ㄊㄚ)[(ㄉㄚˇ)(ㄉㄧㄢˋ)(ㄏㄨㄚˋ)], (ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄉㄨˊ)(ㄓㄜˋ ㄅㄣˇ)(ㄕㄨ)
(xiān)(gěi)(tā)[(dǎ)(diàn)(huà)], (zài)(dú)(zhè běn)(shū)
(first)(to give)(her)[(to strike, to do)(electric)(word) = make phone call], (then)(to read)(this + measure word for book)(book)
First, (I’ll) give her a call, then (I) will read this book.
(ㄋㄧˇ)(ㄧㄥ ㄍㄞ)(ㄒㄧㄢ)(ㄑㄧㄥ ㄐㄧㄝˊ)(ㄔㄨˊ ㄈㄤˊ), (ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄑㄩˋ)(ㄍㄨㄤˋ ㄐㄧㄝ)(ㄡ)
(nǐ)(yīng gāi)(xiān)(qīng jié)(chú fáng), (zài)(qù)(guàng jiē)(ō)
(you)(should)(first)(to clean)(kitchen), (then)(to go)(window shopping)(conversational sound)
You should clean the kitchen first, then go shopping.
(ㄊㄚ)(ㄒㄧㄢ)(ㄓㄠˇ ㄉㄠˋ)(ㄍㄨㄥ ㄗㄨㄛˋ), (ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄇㄞˇ)(ㄔㄜ ㄗ˙)
(tā)(xiān)(zhǎo dào)(gōng zuò), (zài)(mǎi)(chē zi.)
(she)(first)(find)(work), (then)(to buy)(car)
First, she is going to find work, then buy a car.
But if you have several things to specify in a certain order, you can use this words:
第一 ㄉㄧˋ ㄧ (dì yī) first
第二 ㄉㄧˋ ㄦˋ (dì èr) second
第三 ㄉㄧˋ ㄙㄢ (dì sān) third
第四 ㄉㄧˋ ㄙˋ (dì sì) fourth
第五 ㄉㄧˋ ㄨˇ (dì wǔ) fifth
第六 ㄉㄧˋ ㄌㄧㄡˋ (dì liù) sixth
第七 ㄉㄧˋ ㄑㄧ (dì qī) seventh
第八 ㄉㄧˋ ㄅㄚ (dì bā) eighth
第九 ㄉㄧˋ ㄐㄧㄡˇ (dì jiǔ) ninth
第十 ㄉㄧˋ ㄕˊ (dì shí) tenth
第十一 ㄉㄧˋ ㄕˊ ㄧ (dì shí yī) eleventh
and so on…
（I will divide the list below in the translation.)
(ㄇㄧㄥˊ ㄊㄧㄢ)(ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄉㄟˇ)(ㄗㄨㄛˋ)(ㄏㄣˇ)(ㄉㄨㄛ)(ㄕˋ ㄑㄧㄥˊ)
(míng tiān)(wǒ)(děi)(zuò)(hěn)(duoō)(shì qíng)
(tomorrow)(I)(must)(to do)(very)(many)(matters, affairs, business)
Tomorrow, I must do many things.
(ㄉㄧˋ ㄧ), (ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄏㄨㄟˋ)(ㄑㄧㄥ ㄐㄧㄝˊ)(ㄔㄨˊ ㄈㄤˊ)
(dì yī)(wǒ)(huì)(qīng1 jié)(chú fáng)
First, I will clean the kitchen;
(ㄉㄧˋ ㄦˋ), (ㄨㄛˇ)(ㄉㄟˇ)(ㄒㄧˇ)(ㄧˋ ㄈㄨˊ)
(dì èr)(wǒ)(děi)(xǐ)(yì fú)
second, I must wash clothes;
(ㄉㄧˋ ㄙㄢ), (ㄗㄞˋ)(ㄩㄢˊ ㄗ˙)(ㄗㄧˇ)(ㄍㄨㄥ ㄗㄨㄛˋ)
(dì sān), (zài)(yuán zi.)(lǐ)(gōng zuò)
(third), (at)(garden)(in)(to work)
third, work in the garden;
(ㄉㄧˋ ㄙˋ), (ㄑㄩˋ)(ㄇㄞˇ)(ㄗㄚˊ ㄏㄨㄛˋ)
(dì sì), (qù)(mǎi)(zá huò)
(fourth), (to go)(to buy)(groceries)
fourth, go to buy groceries;
(ㄉㄧˋ ㄨˇ), (ㄉㄚˋ ㄍㄞˋ)(ㄏㄨㄟˋ)(ㄔ)(ㄅㄧㄥ ㄑㄧˊ ㄌㄧㄣˊ)(ㄡ)
(dì wǔ), (dà gài)(huì)(chī)(bīng qí lín)(ōu)
(fifth), (probably)(will)(to eat)(ice cream)(conversational sound)
fifth, probably go eat ice cream!
As I practiced making up these kinds of sentences, I tried talking about my children in age order. I learned that there is a specific way to refer to children in relation to their age order.
老大 ❺ ㄌㄠˇ ㄉㄚˋ (lǎo dà) oldest child
老二 ㄌㄠˇ ㄦˋ (lǎo èr) second child
老三 ㄌㄠˇ ㄙㄢ (lǎo sān) third child
老四 ㄌㄠˇ ㄙˋ (lǎo sì) fourth child
老五 ㄌㄠˇ ㄨˇ (lǎo wǔ) fifth child
老六 ㄌㄠˇ ㄌㄧㄡˋ (lǎo liù) sixth child
etc., until you get to the youngest, who is
老幺❺ ㄌㄠˇ ㄧㄠ (lao yāo)
(ㄨㄛˇ ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄌㄠˇ ㄉㄚˋ)(ㄕˋ)(ㄙㄢ ㄕˊ ㄦˋ)(ㄙㄨㄟˋ)
(wǒ de.)(lǎo dà)(shì)(sān shí èr)(suì)
(my)(oldest child)(to be, is)(three tens and two)(years old)
My oldest child is 32 years old.
(I)(to be, am)(oldest child)
I am an oldest child.
(ㄨㄛˇ ㄇㄣ˙ ㄉㄜ˙)(ㄌㄠˇ ㄦˋ)(ㄕˋ)(ㄦˊ ㄗ˙)
(wǒ men. de.)(lǎo èr)(shì)(ér zi.)
(our)(second child)(to be, is)(son)
Our second child is a son.
❶ This is the same 先 ㄒㄧㄢ (xiān) that you have probably heard as part of the way of saying Mr. or an option for saying husband.
❷ I first learned to used this 再 ㄗㄞˋ(zài) for it’s other meaning of again, as in the common salutation upon parting of 再見 ㄗㄞˋ ㄐㄧㄢˋ (zài jiàn) again to see.
❸ The mother in me finds it humorous that the character for to wash includes the character for first.
❹ Here the conversational sound is of some importance to soften the sentence. Without that, it would sound more commanding.
❺ 大 ㄉㄚˋ (dà) is a common word that means big, great, or highly. 幺 ㄧㄠ (yāo) is new to me, but means tiny, insignificant, youngest. 老大 can also be used to refer to a group leader. And, in case you were wondering, I do have 7 children, so I was not making the list that long arbitrarily!