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What Does It Mean to Be "at the Top of the List"?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The English idiom “at the top of the list” refers to something that is next slated for use, acceptance, or any other event. It also refers to subjects that are of top priority. This phrase is used by English speakers to indicate a hierarchy of eligibility.

“At the top of the list” is a rather literal idiom. A list, in a technical sense, often establishes priority or order of use. Thus, being at the top quite literally refers to the next item on the list, in a certain order. Other phrases, like “next on the list,” have the same meaning.

Some English speakers will change this phrase slightly to personify it. In a personal sense, the phrase would be “at the top of my list” or “first on my list.” A slightly different meaning for these phrases applies; some English speakers use these, not for priority, but to express fondness, or overall preference. For example, someone might say to someone else, “you’re first on my list,” as an expression of special affection.

Other phrases are similarly used for priority. One of these is “first in line,” where someone or something that is said to be the next to be called or used. In British English, “first in the queue” is another alternative.

This phrase can be used for concrete nouns, or, in more abstract situations. For instance, someone could say that a building is “at the top of the list” for demolition or maintenance, where the phrase establishes that specific building as priority. Alternately, someone could say that a company is “at the top of the list” for interest from local government, where the actual subject is a bit more intangible.

Using this idiom can also be done in different ways in terms of syntax. It’s common for someone to use it as a straightforward conditional phrase for a subject. Also, someone could use the phrase at the beginning of a sentence, saying “At the top of the list, we have...”

In modern English speech, the longer idiomatic phrase may not be used as much as it was previously. Some younger English speakers favor short functional phrases. For example, instead of saying something is “at the top of the list,” someone might say that it is “next up for review."

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