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"Mr Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time, to remind you all that magic is not permitted in corridors between classes, nor are a number of other things, all of which can be checked on the extensive list now fastened to Mr Filch's office door. ..." (Dumbledore)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

As I understand, it means: it took Mr Filch 460 seconds to tell all those regulations. I'm not sure if I get it right. I don't quite understand the grammar as well.

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In this case the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time is not a measure of time but a count of times, the 462nd time. Filch (probably exaggerating) told Dumbledore that this warning had been issued 461 times previously and nonetheless needed to be issued again.

  • "what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time" is a noun phrase there, right? – dan Jan 29 at 11:36
  • Arguably the implication could be that Mr Filch is exceptionally punctilious, and has in fact kept a meticulous record of how often he's asked Dumbledore to remind the pupils about these rules. Or perhaps he hasn't kept a record at all, but he's still able to confidently give the exact number by simple calculation, because he knows that he's raised this point at every single weekly staff meeting since he started working at Hogwarts. (And he's good enough at mental arithmetic to reliably calculate how many weeks since he got the job! :) – FumbleFingers Jan 29 at 11:45
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    @dan: Yeah - it's a noun phrase. Same as the first time, which would still be a noun phrase if I extended it to what you tell me is the first time. – FumbleFingers Jan 29 at 11:49
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    People often use invented large numbers when rebuking someone. My mother might have said "I've told you ninety-nine (or nine hundred and ninety-nine) times to shut that door when you come in!". There is no suggestion that the number is exact. There is a word, "umpteen" that is also used. French people often say trente-six (thirty-six) in that situation, except where that might cause confusion (e.g. he has written umpteen books), in which case something like je ne sais combien would work. – Michael Harvey Jan 29 at 18:30
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this is second the number

for what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time,

or using digits

for what he tells me is the 462nd time,

It means Mr Filch has told them 462 times now that magic is not to be used in the corridors. And the very precise number means that Mr Filch has been counting.

  • Is "what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time" considered as a noun phrase? – dan Jan 29 at 11:38
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    @dan sorry I was taught English as a native speaker in a time when that was not considered important, so I have no idea. – WendyG Jan 29 at 11:40
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The other answers are quite correct. I am adding this just to make another (permanent) observation rather than leaving it in a comment.

If the sentence actually were describing seconds themselves, rather than a count of occurrences, then the phrase would have likely been written like this:

the four-hundred-and-sixtieth second

Not the change from sixty to sixtieth, the dropping of the hyphen before second, and the dropping of time after second.

It's because it wasn't written this way that you can tell the use of second is being used as part of an adjectival phrase modifying time rather than as a noun that is itself being modified.

  • very good point – WendyG Jan 30 at 15:01
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We can break down the sentence to make it simpler, as there are quite a few phrases inserted that are not part of the essential idea.

Mr Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time, to remind you all...

The words in bold are the important words. By removing the other words we end up with a simple statement:

Mr Filch has asked me to remind you all...

The words we eliminated are just there to provide certain background information. If we want to know who Mr Filch is we can restore the phrase the caretaker. If we want to know how many times Mr Filch has made this request we can restore the phrase for the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time. If we want to know how Dumbledore knew that it was the four-hundred-and-sixty-second time we can restore the phrase what he tells me is.

The phrase four-hundred-and-sixty-second time which might have confused you, is referring to the number of times the request has been made. The word second is not being used as the unit of time passage; rather it is the last digit of the number 462. To make this simpler we could imagine it with a less complex number. If the request had only been made on four previous occasions, the sentence would instead read:

Mr Filch, the caretaker, has asked me, for what he tells me is the fifth time, to remind you all...

Here there is no confusion because fifth is not a homonym like second is.

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