From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repeat_sign

When a repeat calls for a different ending, number brackets above the bars indicate which to played the first time (1), which to play the second time (2), etc. These are called "first-time bars" and "second-time bars," or "first and second endings."

Is there a case when you can only use one of them?

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    A second ending implies that a first ending must exist, and a "first ending only" would just use a regular repeat sign. – NReilingh Jul 3 '11 at 19:38

By definition, there isn't. You only need the first-time and second-time bars when you have two different endings.

When you don't have different endings, you don't need to use either first-time or second-time bars. When you do have at least two different endings, you must use both bars. There may be more, too -- some pieces have a common repeated part and more than 2 different endings.

So, it's a "both or nothing" kind of deal.

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    You can, however, have the "first-time bar" be more than just the first time ("1–3."); the "second-time bar" will still be the last ("4."). – Sophie Alpert Jul 3 '11 at 20:43
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    Or you can even do weird things like ("1, 3.") and ("2, 4."). – Caleb Hines Nov 7 '14 at 16:55

if the music in the last bar/s of the phrase is identical, you'd use a repeat barline at the end of the phrase, but not put the 1st-time line over the last bar/s. The performer would play the whole phrase identically twice (in the absence of further performance instructions such as 'first time f, second time p',) including the final bar/s.

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