25

How to ask the position(?) of a president (like 10th) of a country, correctly?

  • 1
    As a note, Google understands these questions: "What number president Obama", "Which number president Lincoln", "What number president Washington", etc. – Damkerng T. Mar 10 '14 at 16:55
20

Probably this is the first question on this particular issue here on ELL, but it's been asked many times before on ELU. That link is to the one kept open while duplicates are closed (about once a month!).

As the answers there will show, there isn't any "natural" way to succinctly phrase such a question in English. Informally, people sometimes ask things like

"Obama is the how-many'th president of the US?"
"This question is the what'th on the subject?".

but they're not at all standard. The best I can think of that remains strictly "grammatical" is...

"What is the ordinality of Obama among US presidents?"

...but I don't recommend learners bothering with that either, since not all native speakers would even understand you. Although it's not really "correct", most people would probably just ask something like...

"What number president is Obama?"

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    How do you pronounce "what'th"? – learner Jan 4 '14 at 20:12
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    @learner: I'm Estuary English/Cockney, so the /t/ in what is a glottal stop. But I'm sure those that do enunciate it as /t/ don't have any more problem with what'th than they do with eighth. The fact that the written form looks a bit peculiar is irrelevant. You might just as well ask why eighth isn't spelt eightth, given that (for those who don't use glottal stops) the written /t/ there forms part of the single consonant "th" = /θ/, so it can't also represent another separate consonant at the same time. – FumbleFingers Jan 4 '14 at 20:41
  • Thanks @FumbleFingers for the answer, I learned more than I'd asked for! – learner Jan 5 '14 at 19:27
  • @learner: That's what we're here for! But it's not just for you to learn, and me to teach. I'm not a teacher by temperament, but I hope ELL has taught me at least a little bit about how to explain certain aspects of English. More importantly, it's taught me a lot about why some things that seem "obvious" to me don't make much sense at all to people who weren't brought up with the language. I was sorta joking when I mentioned eighth before, but thinking about it now I'm kinda surprised no-one has actually asked about that very point! – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '14 at 20:59
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I don't particularly like the way this sentence sounds, but I think it's the clearest way to ask your question without being over-elaborate:

What number president was Taft?

So I suggest you say that. But since I don't really like the sound of it, I'll discuss a few other ways to say the same thing:


I like this sentence much better, but it's pretty ambiguous:

Which president was Taft?

. . . so we could probably clarify it a bit. In informal speech, I might say the following:

Which president was Taft, like the thirtieth? Thirty-first?

Less informally:

Which president was Taft? For example, was he the thirtieth president?

Since I gave examples of answers, it's clear what I meant.

You can, of course, spell out exactly what you mean. I avoided doing so because it's difficult to do so concisely. We can write the following sentence, which is precise and acceptable:

In the chronological sequence of Presidents of the United States, which position did Taft occupy?

. . . but it sounds unwieldy to me.

6

You have your answer in the question itself!

Which position is Obama at on the list of American Presidents?

And the answer is...

He's 44th on the list of American Presidents.

  • Should it be: At which position is Obama on the list of American Presidents? A preposition would be required in this question structure. – Neil D'Silva Mar 15 '14 at 8:04
  • Or: Which position is Obama at on the list of American Presidents? – Neil D'Silva Mar 15 '14 at 8:04
  • This doesn't necessarily convey the desired meaning though. Absent the context of this question, I might think you're asking them to be ranked by accomplishments, not list chronologically (in which case I'd probably not answer with an ordinal number). And even if we are talking about a chronological list, he could be listed first if the year is 2014 and we are listing them newest to oldest. – J.R. Apr 30 '15 at 14:25
  • Or: In which position does Obama appear in the order of American Presidents? – Monis Jun 4 '17 at 18:14
3

A simple way to ask this kind of question and a way that many speakers do opt for, is with "How many".

How many American presidents (did we have|were there|came) before Obama?
-- He's the 44th president.

How many people were ahead of you in the customer service phone queue?
--I'm third in line.

How many times has he been absent?
--This is his fourth absence.

If you need more precision than that, then you're probably writing or speaking in a specialized domain where unwieldiness plays second-fiddle to precision:

In which offset of the array was the string value found?

What is the item's position in the job queue?

1

If I understand your question correctly, you mean position as in 9th, 10th, 11th etc. If so you could say:

Was he the 10th president of the United States?

0

I would use this:

At what number does Obama stand in the sequence of American Presidents?

Another option though not so good:

What is Obama's serial number among the American Presidents?

-1

I think it can be asked in this way also. Where does Obama come among American presidents?

  • @user3169 This is an answer. It only looks like a question because it proposes a way to ask a question (without quotation marks or formatting to indicate that the question is being mentioned rather than asked). – Ben Kovitz Jun 28 '17 at 6:16

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