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I live in a country where we call the floor of a building at the ground level the 1st floor, the next one - the 2nd floor and so on. We have the same numeration in our lifts and these numbers are written on each floor’s walls. I learn British English and we are taught to say ground floor and so on about our buildings. Although, it doesn’t add up for me.

When I describe a situation in a lift, for example:

I live on the first floor, so could you, please, press number 2 for me.

It looks wrong. The same way it’s hard for me to say that I live on the first floor to a foreigner, especially if he is about to visit, because the numbers say 2nd.

Could you, please, tell me what you would say, if you were in a country like mine. Would you use your traditional floor numeration or would you use the numeration accepted in the country (especially I’m interested what you would say if you were staying at a hotel or taking a lift).

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    Are you asking "How do I tell a visitor from Britain which floor I live on?" Just say "I live on the second floor", and you might add "that's the first floor to you, of course." Commented Apr 28 at 7:40
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    What do you think people would do? Isn't this obvious? If you are in a country where such a system is used, then you'd use their system otherwise you'd risk being misunderstood. Why would you even need to tell them about the system used in your country?
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:35
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    "I live in a country where we call the floor of a building at the ground level - the 1st floor" That's not correct use of a hyphen. No punctuation is needed, but if you really want punctuation, it should be "I live in a country where we call the floor of a building at the ground level 'the 1st floor'." Commented Apr 28 at 19:40
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    @Kate Thinking beyond the elevator example (where there’s an immediate physical entity you need to relate it to), I find it’s most difficult when talking about this internationally to remember which people you need to adjust for (i.e., which countries use which system). When I tell someone from another country that I live on the fourth floor, I’m always left wondering how far from the ground they actually think I live. Commented Apr 28 at 19:46
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    Nobody seems to have pointed out that if you are in the UK and you live on the 1st floor then you press the 1 button, not the 2 button. Our buttons are labelled G, 1, 2, 3 etc.
    – Vicky
    Commented Apr 29 at 8:57

10 Answers 10

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If I (a British speaker) am in your country (which uses 1st, 2nd 3rd; not G, 1st, 2nd) Then I would adapt to your system, and say, in perfect British English "I live on the second floor". Because in your country "second floor" means up one from the ground.

So I'd say "I live on the second floor, please press 2 for me." And likewise I'd call the ground floor "the first floor".

I'd expect an American, visiting the UK to use the British numbering of floors if they are in a building that has a "Ground floor". The system of naming floors is just a system of names, it doesn't really depend on dialect.

There could be some situations in which I'd need to clarify but they'd be pretty rare. I might sometimes get confused and make mistake, but that is also not a problem.

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    @timr Hmm. I lived in the US for 64 years and I only recall ever seeing one building that numbered floors, G, 1, 2, 3, etc. I found it confusing at the time but not like a huge mental effort to figure out. I don't think this is common in the US at all. Maybe in some particular area, etc.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:14
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    @Jay There's also LL (lower level), B (basement), M (Mezzanine), P1, P2, P3. It varies by building.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:33
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    The amusing song "London Homesick Blues" has a line about the narrator/singer wondering "where in the world is that English girl who promised she would meet me on the third floor". Of course, he was waiting for her on the wrong floor.
    – Wastrel
    Commented Apr 28 at 14:09
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    I've also seen G/2/3/4, basically another version of hybrid.
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 29 at 4:22
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    @Flater Sure there might be confusion occasionally, but I don't consider this to be part of dialect but part of culture. That is, using "ground floor, first floor" is not part of "British English", but just "something we do in Britain". If I'm in another country, I'll avoid most confusion by simply using their system. Or actually, the particular system of the individual building, since, as noted, not all buildings have the same naming system, even with a country. And sure, there might be confusion if I arrange to meet a guy on the third floor, but nothing too awful.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 29 at 6:08
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Well sure. If you are visiting a country that has a different convention for naming things from what you are used to, whether floors in a building or whatever, trying to mix the two sets of conventions is going to be confusing. The easy solution is to consistently use the convention of the place where you are. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Just like, if you sometimes gave lengths in meters and sometimes in feet, that would be confusing. Even if you specified which you were using each time, people would have to figure it out and convert. If you DIDN'T specify which you were using each time, it would be super confusing. Like, "The length of board A is 5, and the length of board B is 2. B is the longer board." Well true is you mean 5 feet versus 2 meters, but how would anyone know which you meant if you didn't say?

I suppose if you said, "I live on the first floor by the British system of numbering floors", anyone aware of the different systems would understand what you mean. But why make everyone around you figure it out? Just use the local system.

I'm presently living in the Philippines. When I have to quote a price, I give it in pesos, not dollars. I'm the foreigner here, I have to adapt to local conventions. I can't expect everyone else to adapt to me.

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  • If you specify metres instead of feet people usually figure it out - you tell me your height is 5 1/2 somethings, I look at you and see you're not a giraffe, so you used feet. But first floor or second floor, there is no indication what you mean.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 28 at 13:43
  • What got me confused once was that while Americans use dollars and Canadian dollars, Canadians use dollars and US dollars. Except in the USA and in Canada, "dollars" are different things.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 28 at 13:45
  • @gnasher That's a better example than my feet and meters. Even if you give the unit, if you say "ten dollars", how do we know which kind of dollars you mean? (Real dollars or Canadian dollars? Hee hee.)
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 28 at 16:31
  • @gnasher RE 5 1/2: Sure, if we were talking about a person's height, it would presumably be obvious which you meant. But if you asked, "How tall is the new building?" and I said "80", without a unit that could be feet, meters, stories, cubits, etc.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 28 at 16:34
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I live on the first floor, so could you, please, press number 2 for me.

The first clause of the sentence will just serve to confuse people.

You should just state the button number shown on the car operating panel and say

Please press number 2 for me.

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It's unlikely to be a problem if you just use the system of the place you're travelling in.

However, an easy way to make doubly sure is to say:

  • I'm on floor 2
  • I'm on floor 5

and so on. In English this clearly means 'the floor labelled number 2'

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    This seems like the clearest, most concise and most logically correct answer. Don't use ordinals if there's any chance you might have non-numeric or awkward values to express. Stick to labels - you can't go wrong or give misleading information that way. Zero-based arrays are fine in programming, less so in communication.
    – Spratty
    Commented Apr 30 at 8:02
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In the UK, where (moving up through a building) we have a ground floor, first floor, second floor, etc these are typically labelled G (or 0), 1, 2, etc.

We are perfectly aware of the American system where (moving up through a building) we have a first floor, second floor, third floor, etc typically labelled 1, 2, 3, etc.

For the most part, we will use whichever system is in use where we are at that time (e.g. if I'm in New York, and I say my room is on the "fifth floor", I mean that in the American system, which I would call the "fourth floor" back home). This is especially true if using lifts.

We will probably still refer to the floor you enter on as the "ground floor" though, as there is no ambiguity in doing so.

All that in mind I don't think a Brit in America would say the sentence given in the question. They'd translate between the two systems and say:

I live on the second floor, so could you, please, press number 2 for me.

Or, potentially, slip up on the translation and say something like:

I live on the first - sorry - second floor, so could you, please, press number 2 for me.

There is certainly a stereotype of Americans being less willing to "translate" like this when in the UK than Brits in the US, but I don't know how true that is.

As others have mentioned, no matter which country you're in, it's not unusual to find occasional buildings with floors numbered according to the "wrong" system, or with various alternatives systems (e.g. letters, descriptive names, additional floors like a mezzanine, or missing certain numbers like 13). In such instances it is normal to follow the system of the specific building.

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(especially I’m interested what you would say if you were staying at a hotel or taking a lift).

Especially if you're at a hotel, you use the numbers on the lift buttons. One = 1 = First floor; Two = 2 = Second floor; perhaps "G" = Ground Floor, "M" = Mezzanine, and "Penthouse" = "Penthouse".

Those numbers don't always mean anything in any country: there may be service floors above, between, or below. Numbering may start at "Lower-Lower-Ground", or at "Basement 2", it may not include "Engineering Services" or "Staff" floors. Floor numbers are names, not altitude.

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I live on the first floor, so could you, please, press number 2 for me.

You are right, as a brit I don't think I would ever say that.

Yes, normally we brits number our floors with the floor at ground level being ground (abreviated G) or zero and numbering up and down from there but there are plenty of buildings around that don't follow convention. Or where the conventions don't even make sense.

I used to work in a building where the floors were BA (basement), A, ME (main entrance), B, C, D, E, F, H, J and K. ME was at ground level but only existed in a small part of the building. BA was full basement, A was semi-basment and B was about half a floor above ground level.

I now work in a building where G is ground level, but the floor I'm on (which only exists in pars of the building) is called Lower First (abbriviated LF) then there is a floor 1 and a floor 2. Floor 2 has a link bridge to floor 4 of another building.

When interacting with people in a building where the owners/operators have named or numbered the floors, I would always follow whatever scheme the owners/operators used. Even if said scheme doesn't follow conventions. I'd probably say "floor two" instead of "second floor" though.

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Ignore ordinals "first", "second", etc. and just reference floors by number: floor number 1, floor number 2... even floor number 0, which would almost always be the number assigned to the street-level floor if you happen to come across a building using the only correct that floor-numbering system.
This way, everybody will understand you, and you won't enter into any arguments about floor number 2 being the first one or the second one, because you are just referencing it by its "name", not by its order.

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The body of your question is actually "What would you call the ground floor if you were in a building where it is the first floor?", in which case the answer is obvious: You'd call it the first floor, because that's how the floors and lifts are labeled. It is true that most buildings in a locale have the same labeling scheme, but what matters are the labels on the building floors themselves.

There are plenty of buildings with nonstandard floor layouts that would cause confusion if the "standard" system, whichever it may be, were applied blindly: multiple basement floors beneath the ground floor, hillside construction with two or more ground floors, split levels so the floors on one side don't line up with the floors on the other, mezzanines and other "half" floors that aren't counted with numbers, superstitious numbers like 13 and 4 that are skipped outright and so on and so forth. Yes, all of this nonsense is only a "but sometimes" thing, and they don't cause enough trouble to invalidate the standard, but when you live in a building tall enough to have lifts, the floors will be labeled, and you will use the building's labels when discussing floors.

For instance, the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City, which typically uses the "ground floor is first floor" convention, labels the ground floor as "0" the basement floors as "-1" and "-2" and the upper floor as "1". When discussing which floor you want to go to, or which floor an exhibit is on, you would use the labels provided by the museum, not the labels suggested by the standard system, so the entrance is on the zeroth floor, floor 0, not the first floor, floor 1.

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You could say "I live on the bottom floor", which would usually be understandable in both contexts.

Unless, of course, your building has a basement ;)

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  • downvoter, care to comment why this isnt a good answer? Commented May 2 at 7:38

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