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On Saturday, Ukraine's security service said it had detained a 15-strong armed gang planning to seize power in Luhansk province.

Does that number 15 mean that there were 15 men strong physically in the armed group?

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No. In such usages, an n-strong [group] just means that in the specific context, n is a relatively large (or definitely "adequate") size of group. Collectively, the group is probably larger than one might have expected, and/or strong enough or big enough to do whatever is planned. –  FumbleFingers Apr 6 at 17:15
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No, numerical strength can also be used to describe undermanned and puny groups/teams/sides as well (particuarly those who might be disqualified from a competition for being under-strength). It is merely an indication of number, as Jasper Loy states in his answer. –  Stan Rogers Apr 6 at 23:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

No, 15-strong means there were 15 men in number. Strength here means the number of people in a group.

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This is what it means:
15-strong: There were 15 people
armed gang: the gang members had weapons

Here, strong does not imply physical strength, and arm does not imply hands

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Hmmm... is a man who carries a weapon on his person but who is unable to operate it because he hasn't got hands still considered armed? :) –  Philipp Apr 7 at 10:19
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@Philipp Is it just the hands that are missing? –  David Richerby Apr 7 at 20:01

The position of the hyphen and plural is important. "15-strong armed gang" is what others have said: one group of 15 people, with guns (number of guns is unknown). Large knives are possible, but it usually refers to guns. You would expect the 15 people to be hostile toward someone, not necessarily you.

"15 strong-armed (gang members / men / people )" means 15 individuals with large muscles. Think Popeye or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Weapons and/or hostility are not implied here, you could use this phrase at a body-building contest or a gym.

"15 strong-armed gangs" means 15 separate groups of muscular people. This could be a very large number of individuals. If they appear angry, you should leave. Quickly.

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The type of armament depends entirely upon the context. In a story set 1000 years ago, it would probably refer to something different than in a modern military setting, which would be different from a gang fight with chains, knives, and bats. Also, to be strong-armed does not mean to be physically strong, but rather to be forced into doing something. You were looking for the version with no dash, 'strong armed', though that would be less common - it's usually just 'strong people' at that point. –  atk Apr 7 at 10:37
    
"15 strong armed men" is rather ambiguous. "to be strong-armed" is different usage. "strong people" does not focus on any particular body part. It is meant as a compare-and-contrast to the original question. –  paul Apr 7 at 10:56
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"strong-armed" means something different: If you are "strong-armed" you are forced by someone to do something that you didn't want to do. You mean "strongly armed". –  gnasher729 Apr 7 at 15:12
    
"15 gang members with strong arms" would be the easiest and least ambiguous way to describe the biceps etc. of the people. –  David Richerby Apr 7 at 20:04
    
Again, it's a compare-and-contrast example, not a definition. The duress usage is context-dependent, and no native speaker is going to say "15 gang members with strong arms". Lets try to be a bit less nit-picky when someone is trying to understand the nuances of another language, hmmm? –  paul Apr 7 at 23:53

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