The Grammarphobia Blog

Can there be two main points?

Q: Is it possible to have more than one MAIN point? Example: “The main points are #1 and #2.” Doesn’t the word “main” mean the most important and therefore all other points are less important? Or am I splitting hairs? 

A: Yes, we do think you’re splitting hairs.

It’s possible, for example, that some argument or case could have five significant points, two of them more important than the others.

An author might legitimately call points #1 and #2 the “main” points. Points #3, #4, and #5, while still significant, could then be described as “secondary.”

You might employ this usage, for instance, if your two top points are of equal (or nearly equal) significance, and only numbered 1 and 2 for convenience’ sake.

Although the adjective “main” may refer to the single most important thing, the word has had many looser meanings over the years.

In fact, “main” referred to “the great size or bulk” of something when it first showed up in writing in the 13th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

A few other senses of the word, now archaic or obsolete or regional, have been powerful, mighty, strong, large, potent, highly remarkable, and very great.

The adjective took on its meaning of chief or principal around 1400, according to OED citations, but the word has often been used since then to refer to more than one important thing.

Shakespeare, for example, referred in All’s Well That End’s Well (1601-05) to the “main consents” and “main parcels.”

We hope this eases your mind!

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