42nd President of USA - how to ask a question with an ordinal answer.

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mgarizona

Senior Member
US - American English
I don't disagree with anything JulianStuart writes, but those infrequent situations that demand such a question deserve being addressed.

To wit, I feel compelled to make a little personal confession to give a background to my suggestion of "what number ____ etc."

I am the youngest of 15 children. When you grow up in a family like that, questions regarding ordinal ranking are NOT infrequent. I was asked "What number are you?" literally hundreds of times. What's interesting now, looking back, is that not only do I not recall anyone having ever phrased the question any other way, but I don't recall anyone having had to scramble for the words. "What number are you?" seemed to flow automatically from the tongues of one and all, young or old, friend or foe.

No doubt this is why I considered "What number President was Bill Clinton" a no-brainer.

And by the way, in the hope of expanding beyond talk of US Presidents, I found this on a site called liverpoolquiz.org.uk:

What number Louis was executed in the French Revolution?
 
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  • mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    how to rephrase the question- what is the position of barrack obama in the list of us presidents.

    Sorry, that doesn't work either. "He is the current president" or "Most recent" or simply "Last" answers that question as well as any ordinal number would.

    Replace Obama with Taft and then maybe. Other than "27th" it would be difficult to find him a distinction.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Quote from wikipedia

    "The Presidents have unique (identification) numbers; only one President has 2. Thus it is legitimate to ask "Which President was Grover Cleveland?" . The answer is "the twenty second and the twenty fourth".

    The answer to the original question "Which U.S. president was Bill Clinton?"

    is thus "He was the 42nd"

    GF..

    Always assuming my source was correct. I have not verified this. Naughty
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Must we conclude that this is a (rare) case of a signifed without a signifier? A meaning that can just not be expressed in words?

    By the way, you might be interested to learn that French has exactly the same problem.
     

    mgarizona

    Senior Member
    US - American English
    "Which President was Grover Cleveland?" . The answer is "the twenty second and the twenty fourth".

    GF..

    Always assuming my source was correct. I have not verified this. Naughty

    Again, this doesn't serve our purposes because the question "Which President was Grover Cleveland?" can quite properly be answered, "He was the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms."

    In colloquial English, "What number Louis was beheaded in 1793?" will get you an ordinal answer. So will "What number President was Bill Clinton?"

    In stodgy English one could also simply ask, "In the ordinal numeration of presidencies, which is Bill Clinton's?"
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    In colloquial English, "What number Louis was beheaded in 1793?" will get you an ordinal answer. So will "What number President was Bill Clinton?"

    I think this is the best solution and, reviewing the thread and discussion again today, to my ear it sounds just fine. It's hard to conceive of any other meaning for this question other than the one requested in post #1 (and the others merged thereto).

    One needs to be a little specific between presidencies and presidents, since they are not necessarily the same number.
     

    u-1

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Good morning,

    I have a question.

    I met a person who has six siblings. I wanted to know if he is the first child (the oldest), the second child, the third child, the fourth child, the fifth child, or the sixth child (the youngest).

    However, I couldn't ask him about that with one simple question sentence, so I did some research about it on the Internet and found this question, "What number child are you in your family?".

    Do you think that this question sentence sounds natural? Are there other ways to say the question in English?

    Thanks in advance.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hullo, U-1. This is one of our (fairly) frequently asked questions ~ see above. If you still have doubts after reading that, just add them here:)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Certainly, 'Which number president was Bill Clinton?' and 'Which number child are you?' are common colloquial questions, instantly understandable.
    Unfortunately, they do not call for the answer 'forty-second' or 'third': they are likely to be answered '42' or '3'.

    When I was at school, we were taught to ask 'Which...?' and, for full clarity, to include the words 'in order of succession', thus:

    'Which president in order of succession was Bill Cinton?'

    We were specifically taught this method. When teachers wanted an answer in ordinal numbers, they would say 'Which (or 'what') is that in order of succession?'
     

    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    Certainly, 'Which number president was Bill Clinton?' and 'Which number child are you?' are common colloquial questions, instantly understandable.
    Unfortunately, they do not call for the answer 'forty-second' or 'third': they are likely to be answered '42' or '3'.

    When I was at school, we were taught to ask 'Which...?' and, for full clarity, to include the words 'in order of succession', thus:

    'Which president in order of succession was Bill Cinton?'

    We were specifically taught this method. When teachers wanted an answer in ordinal numbers, they would say 'Which (or 'what') is that in order of succession?' That doesn't guarantee an ordinal-number answer.


    It seems clear that if one wants an ordinal-number answer, one has to specify that.

    What ordinal-number president was Bill Clinton?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    When you ask the question 'Which is that in order of succession?' then the adjective 'Third' is in grammatical terms a valid answer, but 'three' or '3' is not.

    That is because 'third' expresses the order, but 'three' or '3' does not.
    'Three' names a number: 'third' describes its position in order.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    But I think that 'everyone' knows that '3rd' is an ordinal number and '3' is not. And 'third is an adjective.

    I do not share your faith about everyone knowing what an ordinal number is... even though you have put it in quotes. Third can be used as an adjective or a noun. What it is being used for here I shall leave open....

    GF..

    And I do mean many, many fewer than everyone.
     

    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    When you ask the question 'Which is that in order of succession?' then the adjective 'Third' is in grammatical terms a valid answer, but 'three' or '3' is not.

    That is because 'third' expresses the order, but 'three' or '3' does not.
    'Three' names a number: 'third' describes its position in order.

    It seems that we will have to disagree on this. "third" and "three" are not the only possible answers to your question.

    'Which is that in order of succession?" could be reasonably answered with 'number 3'. So I remain with the belief that the only way to guarantee an ordinal-number answer is to specify that in the question.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British

    'Which is that in order of succession?" could be reasonably answered with 'number 3'. So I remain with the belief that the only way to guarantee an ordinal-number answer is to specify that in the question.

    'Which is that in order of succession?" is a different question from 'Which is that in succession?'
    The difference is that the order is specifically requested to be given.
    The only numeral which gives the order is, as its name implies, the ordinal.

    Of course, it is perfectly possible for the other party to overlook this difference and give an inappropriate answer.

    On the other hand, if you add to the question the words, 'Please give your answer as an ordinal number' then (a) your question becomes too lengthy for ordinary conversation, (b) you will sound like a talking maths exam, (c) as George French has pointed out, most people will not know what you are talking about anyway and (d) it will still be perfectly possible for the respondent not to give the answer as an ordinal.

    Nothing will ever guarantee an ordinal answer. We have to face the fact that there is a gap in the language here, that we will not achieve a perfect result and that we should accept the best practical solution, which I respectfully submit is the traditional form offered in post 64.
     
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    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    "What number child are you in your family?".

    Do you think that this question sentence sounds natural? Are there other ways to say the question in English?

    This is widely used and readily understandable, but still, in my opinion, a little informal - though there is a precedent for using a determiner like this in examples such as:
    What size waist are you?

    A slightly more formal alternative, similar to Wandle's suggestion for the president, is:
    Where are you in your family, in order of age?

    .. which also generalizes well to height, weight, wealth, beauty, ugliness ... or any other comparison you care to make.
     

    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    Nothing will ever guarantee an ordinal answer. We have to face the fact that there is a gap in the language here, that we will not achieve a perfect result and that we should accept the best practical solution, which I respectfully submit is the traditional form offered in post 64.
    I see no gap in the language. But there certainly seems to be a strange reluctance to use that particular part of the language.

    When I say "guarantee an ordinal answer", I obviously mean that the person answering knows what an ordinal number is and follows the request to give an ordinal-number answer.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I see no gap in the language.
    The gap in the language is, as the original poster explained, that English has no specific ordinal question-word.
    We have numbers: one, two, three, four, five etc. For these, we have a question-word: 'how many?'
    'How many presidents of the US have there been?' :tick:

    We have ordinals: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, etc.
    For these, however, we have no ordinal question-word such as *'how manieth?' (compare: 'twentieth').
    'How manieth president of the US was Bill Clinton?' :cross:

    That is the gap. To get round it, we have a standard expression: 'which ... in order of succession?'
    'Which president of the US, in order of succession, was Bill Clinton?' :tick:
    When I say "guarantee an ordinal answer", I obviously mean that the person answering knows what an ordinal number is and follows the request to give an ordinal-number answer.
    There is a difference between knowing what an ordinal number is, and knowing the term 'ordinal number'.
    Most people know what an ordinal number is (they know how to use it), but most people are not familiar with the term 'ordinal number'.

    Your suggestion depends on people knowing the term. Unfortunately, that is not realistic as regards the majority of English-speaking people. If you put it in your question, you would have to explain it.

    Faced with the gap in terms, we can only accept there is no perfect solution, just a best practical one, as mentioned.
     
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    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    Sorry, but you are unsuccessfully straining to defend your position.

    What most people know is completely irrelevant! The original poster on this thread on an English forum asked about how to get an ordinal-number answer to a question. It is not a test of the general population. As I said before, the question can only be answered by a person who understands the terminology.

    You keep putting forward a question that doesn't guarantee an ordinal-number answer. I think this discussion between you and me has run its course. I hope to have nothing more to say here.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Can you please give an example of the question as you would put it, canadian45?

    Oh... sorry. I see it now:

    "What ordinal-number president was Bill Clinton?"

    I suppose it's possible but it seems ungainly.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    "What ordinal-number president was Bill Clinton?"
    I suppose it's possible but it seems ungainly.

    Not only is it ungainly, and to most people unclear; it also implies that there is such a thing as an 'ordinal-number president': different, apparently, from other presidents.
     
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    navi

    Banned
    armenian
    How about:

    Counting from the first president on, which president was he?
    Counting from the oldest child in the family on, which child are you?
     

    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    Can you please give an example of the question as you would put it, canadian45?

    Oh... sorry. I see it now:

    "What ordinal-number president was Bill Clinton?"

    I suppose it's possible but it seems ungainly.

    "ungainly" or 'elegant' is not the issue. It is simply an answer to an unusual but clear quuestion that was asked. And that question is the only question that makes it clear that the answer has to be an ordinal number.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    That's a ridiculous comment.

    I don't think so. The position of the word "ordinal-number" calls for an adjective, as in "which Republican president" or "which American president". "Ordinal-number" is not an adjective. "Ordinal-numbered" or "ordinally-numbered" would work as an adjective but is still awkward. The adjective excludes those who don't match its description: Republican president as opposed to Democratic president; American president as opposed to a president of another country; ordinal-number president as opposed to... non-ordinal-number president?

    It's clear you are happy with your solution. It's also clear that your opinion is not shared by everyone here.

    I prefer the "in order of succession" as the best alternative presented so far.
     
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    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    Of course "ordinal-number" can be a compound adjective.

    I don't plan to waste any more of my time here.
     
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    modulus

    Senior Member
    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
    Good day everyone!

    Please help me out on this one.

    Ineed to know how to ask the question properly if you want to arrive with an answer that deals with order.:confused: samples are:


    1. She is our 13th president.

    2. This is my third time to watch this movie.


    Help guys,
    I badly need it!

    Thanks a lot:)
    You'd normally start such questions with "how many" followed by something that establishes an order---e.g. before/after, preceded/proceeded, younger/older, taller/shorter, etc.

    -How many presidents came before her?
    This could be answered "12" or "She is/was the 13th president".

    -How many times have you watched this movie before?
    Answers could be "twice" or "This is my third time".

    -How many younger siblings do you have?
    Answers could be "2" or "I'm the third youngest."

    Sometimes, the order is implicit and there is no need to explicitly establish one, for example,

    -In which century was she born?

    It should be obvious that we normally don't ask questions in order to elicit a certain syntax in the reply. We ask questions to elicit a response, which can be expressed in various syntactic forms.
     
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    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    What number child are you?
    What number president is he?

    I analyse these a little differently. I read "What number" as a determiner here.

    It's not uncommon for a noun-phrase to be used in this way. Examples are:
    What size shoes are you wearing?
    What colour tie do you prefer?

    That is not saying that there is such a thing as a "size shoes" or a "colour tie". Rather, "size" and "colour" are attached to "what".

    In contrast, it seems wrong to say:
    What numbered president is he?
    since "numbered" appears as an adjective.

    Nevertheless, I consider "What number president" a less formal and generally less attractive alternative to "Which president in order of succession", and I see "What ordinal-number president" on a par with:
    What metric-size shoes do you wear?
    What number-of-stripes tie do you prefer?
    the woman-next-door's hat

    .. as only marginally acceptable, if at all.
     

    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    and I see "What ordinal-number president" .. as only marginally acceptable, if at all.

    Even though I was hoping to have this thread end, I am 'forced' to respond again.
    The collective you are forgetting the requirement of the original post and also forgetting the fact that this thread has little if anything to do with ordinary everyday language.
    :)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Even though I was hoping to have this thread end, I am 'forced' to respond again.
    The collective you are forgetting the requirement of the original post and also forgetting the fact that this thread has little if anything to do with ordinary everyday language.
    :)

    The original question seemed like an ordinary, even everyday, type of request about how to say something in English.
    I need to know how to ask the question properly if you want to arrive with an answer that deals with order.:confused: samples are:
    1. She is our 13th president.

    I still like "What number President was Bill Clinton?" as a way of asking the question to obtain the number (in order) that he represented as president. You may not get the XYth format, as in "ordinal" number format, in the answer but you get the number - I still think that was what the original question was after!
     

    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    1) If it is an ordinary request, why is there no easy agreement as to the answer?

    2) No, one certainly cannot say that a cardinal-number answer was what the original poster was looking for when (s)he used two ordinal-number examples!
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    1) If it is an ordinary request, why is there no easy agreement as to the answer?

    2) No, one certainly cannot say that a cardinal-number answer was what the original poster was looking for when (s)he used two ordinal-number examples!
    1) That strikes me as a non sequitur! As others have noted, English lacks something here "How manyth ....?" or "The what-th ..." is not easily asked in English, but it is nonetheless a simple enough, ordinary request. At the very least, it lacks an easily agreed upon answer :D
    2) it would be wonderful if the OP from 7 years ago were still around to provide such certainty. The ordinals in the example may simply have been used to illustrate the issue of order and illustrate the kind of question to be formulated. It was the question that was at issue. Having been helped with how to ask the question, the OP might well have been happy with a one word answer, possibly either Thirteen or Thirteenth. We may never know:)
     

    canadian45

    Banned
    Canadian English
    2) it would be wonderful if the OP from 7 years ago were still around to provide such certainty. The ordinals in the example may simply have been used to illustrate the issue of order and illustrate the kind of question to be formulated. It was the question that was at issue. Having been helped with how to ask the question, the OP might well have been happy with a one word answer, possibly either Thirteen or Thirteenth. We may never know:)

    Actually no, because the original post specifies an ordinal answer. (something that I should have remembered in my last post)
    42nd President of USA - how to ask a question with an ordinal answer.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    It is not possible to come to universal agreement on this question, and there does not seem to be much point in continuing this discussion

    We have two sorts of answers:

    1) suggestions as to how such questions are usually asked in English.
    2) suggestions as to how they might be asked, according the rules of English grammar.

    Anyone who is interested in the topic is welcome to read this thread and select the responses that seem most useful to them.

    This thread is closed.

    Cagey.
    English Only moderator.
     

    Li singh

    Senior Member
    hindi
    <<Moderator note. Li Singh's question has been appended to this closed thread. Please read (at least some of) the discussion above to decide which response is most useful to them>>

    Hi
    Since I have joined the forum, I have kept it in my mind that it the only ultimate source of English. I have a sentence: 'Tom is the 25th chief-minister of the state' of which suitable question( the 25th) is beyond me. How to make the question. When I asked of of my colleagues, he answered: What is the ordinal number of chief-minister of Tom of the state?
    Thanks
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    This is a question that seems to be asked of English learners, but it never comes up for native speakers at all. It's just not a question we would ask. I don't know why they put you through this torture.

    I think there are several threads on this already. I would modify your colleague's question: "What ordinal position in Chief-Ministers of State is Tom?" There is no really good way to form this question, in my opinion.
     

    Elysium

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    <A further addendum>

    So, Biden is the 46th president, but how would we phrase a question to figure that out (giving the chance to answer such a question with a cordinal number)?

    I actually have no idea how to ask about ordinal numbers. Is there a specific question word like "whatth?"

    Can I ask: "Is Biden the Xth president of the USA?"

    It just doesn't sound good.
     
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