top priority or THE top priority?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by teacup2, Nov 21, 2012.

  1. teacup2 Senior Member

    Checking the hits on the internet, "giving top priority" is ten times as popular as "giving the top priority". But is it idiomatic to use the "THE" in this phrase?

    The sentence I am writing is the following:
    The forms of culture that were given (the) top priority within the French cultural establishment were ballet and opera.
  2. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    I would say that the "the" is entirely optional but it does give some emphasis to "top priority".
  3. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    There are a hundred useful things I can do today. Of those, five are top priority; I will make sure to get all of them done. One of those five is the top priority; I will get to it right away (as soon as I finish browsing WRF).

    "The" identifies a single item, so "the top priority" is limited to a single task. "Top" can refer to a group of high-priority tasks, just as the classification "top secret" refers to a category of information that is more confidential than merely "secret."

    Here, since ballet and opera have equal high priority, neither of them is "the top." Both are simply "top." Jazz, painting, folk dancing, and macramé were presumably less important.
  4. Franco-filly Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - Southern England
    Personally, I would use “the highest priority” rather than “the top priority”
  5. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    I think to give top priority means to give the label "top priority" to something. That thing is then categorised as "top priority" in an adjectival sense. This is why we don't use the article. In other cases, we can say this task is top priority or this task is the top priority, depending on how we want to look at it. The second sentence can be turned round: The top priority is this task. The first sentence can't because top priority acts as an adjective.

    That's my off-the-cuff reasoning!
  6. Parla Member Emeritus

    New York City
    English - US
    We seem to have one of our AE/BE splits on this question. I'm in agreement with my fellow American, Egmont (post #3), as to usage here as well as his reason for it.
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    As an aside, I am always a little uncomfortable about qualifying "priority"; you could argue that there can only be one priority: if you agree (as one entry in the OED gives) that a priority is "a thing that is regarded as more important than others;", then there can only be one.

    If you have a lot of things to do, your priority might be to "unblock the drains" - once you have done that, the next task assumes the position of the priority.

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