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In conversation, I just said:

Пусть он предприниматель, но думает не только о деньгах. Будь нажива для него на первом месте, он бы больше заработал, нарушая правила.

Now I'm wondering how "в первую очередь" would have compared to "на первом месте" in terms of nuance, usage, and register?

{vs}: Будь нажива для него в первую очередь, ...

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    I admire your questions. :))))) You first say sth correctly and then doubt if you shouldn't have used a wrong variant. – Elena Jan 21 '19 at 19:08
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в первую очередь can mean mainly, chiefly, but it also often implies some order, listing. While it's not explicit and necessary, it has more of an implicit undertone and gives you a freedom to continue with a list. e.g. for him profit came first, then interest. So often in a conversation you would also use a construction implying a sequence: в первую очередь нажива, потом интерес.

Hence, from the grammatical point of view, в первую очередь in the first meaning has a function of an adverbial expression (В первую очередь для него была нажива - For him profit was above all), in the second case it tends more to a parenthetical phrase (В первую очередь (во-первых), для него была важна нажива, потом (во вторую очередь) интерес).

на первом месте means more "in the first place, above all else". And besides, it is more of a stand alone phrase/construction, e.g. in the first place for him was profit. While you could continue also with giving a list in the second place, etc, you feel much less obliged to.

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The verb быть by itself can't be meaningfully qualified with the adverb в первую очередь, it requires an object: быть в первую очередь человеком, в первую очередь быть здоровым

With this in mind it could be used in your sentence after some modification

Будь его целью в первую очередь нажива, он бы больше заработал, нарушая правила

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  • In English, how would you say "Будь его целью в первую очередь нажива" rather literally? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 21 '19 at 19:45
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    @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens If profit were his main goal, he'd break all the rules just to make more money... i guess it's not literal, or is it? – Баян Купи-ка Jan 21 '19 at 19:51
  • Oh, by "literally", I meant "such a translation that takes into account the instrumental case". How do you paraphrase "his main goal" into something more instrument-ish? "If profit were to come first as his goal" or something like that? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 22 '19 at 7:21
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens yeah, this is another way to put it, but of course it doesn't correspond to Instrumental strictly speaking – Баян Купи-ка Jan 22 '19 at 12:37
  • It was an odd thing to ask, I know. :) – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 22 '19 at 12:56
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Будь нажива для него в первую очередь, ...

This wording is just plain wrong and ungrammatical. ''В первую очередь'' is an adverb-like construction that answers the question ''как?'', not ''где?'', whereas the construction ''будь нажива для него'' requires something that answers the question ''где?'', ''чем?'', or ''какой?''

Your original variant, ''будь нажива для него на первом месте,'' is perfect.

The expression ''в первую очередь'' is used as follows:

''Это надо сделать в первую очередь'' = ''This has to be done first.''

''В первую очередь, ... '' = ''First of all, ... ''

''Он в первую очередь лингвист'' = ''He is primarily a linguist.''

''Его интересуют в первую очередь деньги'' = ''He is primarily interested in money.''

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В первую очередь

Literally, this means "First in line." As such, it really does not belong in the example. Second example is not a valid statement.

На первом месте

In first place, leading choice or preference, main concern.

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