I am the third daughter (or son) of my parents.
I am the third child of my parents
How should a question that is answered with the above sentences be framed?
'Among your sisters, where do you fall with respect to birth order?'
Is that what you're looking for?
"Are your siblings older or younger than you?", or perhaps "Are you the oldest?" or "Are you the youngest?"
The term birth order would only be used in a scientific context. Even siblings is relatively formal, you'd more often hear "brothers and sisters".
I've done some research:
This question is perfectly fine, but sounds unpleasant in a conversation.
Although informal, you can expect an answer with this question.
As long as we're confined to Five Ws, this is the best workaround.
Most of the languages have a workaround for ordinal number questions. The -ième (th) suffix is used in French after the question word. For example, combien (how much) + -ième (th) = combientième. Introducing an interrogative suffix -th or -eth would streamline the usage of such words.
Navigating the complexities of modern families with English semantics and syntax can generate a bevy of interesting question and answer combinations. An excellent foundation for the queries posted would be the interrogative:
Various complexities of the family dynamic would still need to be sorted out with the language of the question and answer. Recognizing the internal ambiguity of the posted question's language, there are several good possibilities for questions to evoke:
As the Original Post example suggests, older boys in the family's birth order are not counted with the girls. Depending on the exact configuration of girls in the immediate family, it would evoke an answer with an ordinal number X:
Again the question is consistent with the example "answer", suggesting girls in the birth order are not to be counted. Depending on the exact configuration of boys in the immediate family, it would evoke an answer with an ordinal number X:
Both of these first two questions also marginalize the consideration of adopted siblings, which can be a delightful intricacy for a family, even if it is not a common arrangement. (I tend to speak of my adopted sister as if she were born to my parents, unless a significant element of context makes her adoption a significant factor.) Adopted children contend with two orders: first, siblings are ranked on an objective age scale by their birth order. Second, adopted children are ranked on the family's subjective "seniority" scale by their introduction order, depending on the ages of the children at their adoption.
Throw in the complexity of multiple blended families, and the single question could morph into a conversation or even a counseling session. In fact, each of the three example "answers" leave the possibility of a blended family wide open Perhaps she intends to exclude stepbrothers and stepsisters by including the phrase of my parents?
In the interrogative contexts above, using the word place in tandem with the word order tends to call for an ordinal number in the response:
The expression place in the birth order is not common by any means, but since the 1982 publication of The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Lehman, and the 1999 publication of Birth Order Blues by Merri Wallace, it is no longer relegated strictly to an obscure corner of psychoanalytic academia. The expression was used by Alexander N. Howe and Christine A. Jackson, in their Marcia Muller and the Female Private Eye: Essays on the Novels That Defined a Subgenre:
Also the expression was used in the popular fictional work of Joan Opyr entitled Idaho Code:
The expression position in the birth order could be considered in lieu of place in the birth order. At one time it was a less obscure expression, but was overtaken by place in the birth order in the early 1990's, as the corpus graph indicates:
Though these three questions suggest an answer with an ordinal number, non-numeric answers like last and middle might be appropriate in particular situations. There is never a guarantee that a question will evoke a particular answer, but the closest thing to a guarantee is to ask for exactly what you want:
English doesn't have a standard way of framing a question whose answer is an ordinal number. (Although, which and what can be used but they don't cover all the cases. Some familiar examples are: What grade are you in?, On which floor is your apartment?.
You can try framing the question in several ways but it doesn't guarantee that the answer will include an ordinal number. The context might shape the question also. Some possible questions for the OP are: "What child are you in your family?", "What number child are you in your family?", "Where do you come in your family?", "What is your birth order in your family?". However, you can always get answers like youngest, oldest, middle and such.
"What number" type of question in this context is not that usual and the answer can be a cardinal number also. For example, I am number two. When you start including phrases like where do you fall, birth order, age order etc.; the question gets unnecessarily long and formal, and it wouldn't sound natural in a conversation.
If you really want to get an ordinal number as an answer and sound natural also, I would suggest using the ordinal numbers in the question. For example:
Most probably the answer will include the ordinal number, except the answer can be I am the only child.
Or, you might know the number of siblings (let's say three) and you can ask:
On the other hand, there are non-standard interrogative words that you can use in English but they don't sound natural. They are whatth (whath), whichth and how manieth. They include the usual interrogative words plus the suffix -th that forms ordinal numbers.
Whatth (whath) is the only one that is mentioned in a dictionary and it might be somewhat more acceptable than the others. Wiktionary includes a definition and example usages:
In many languages, this kind of interrogative word is standard unlike English. Here is a list from omegawiki.org:
Here is an explanation about ordinatives from a credible source (Explorations in Functional Syntax: A New Framework for Lexicogrammatical Analysis by George David Morley):
Any of these questions below should supply the needed information:
It may be somewhat informal, but I would ask
This might not be appropriate on some formal documentation for example, but in everyday conversational English I think it has the most immediate meaning to the subject, over some of the answers like:
Which would have them pause to think.
Given how important the ordinal birth number would be for birthrights, especially where the concept of primogeniture was involved, I thought that would be a good place to start research. Unfortunately my cursory glance at The Bill of Rights of 1688 and The Act of Succession 1700 did not reveal much and I'm not sure what other traditions factored into how the monarchy was determined. I doubt I'll touch upon the best answer right now or even a good one but I do hope that my efforts are at least informative.
Some Preliminary Information on Ordinal Numbers
Order is a word that means many, many things so I'd like to highlight the definitions that seem most applicable to our purposes as a Noun:
And as a Verb:
The ordinal number is opposed to the Cardinal number which is interestingly, the definition which gives us more information about ordinal numbers:
It should first be noted that people often are not especially careful with language if they believe their statement is sufficient to get their point across. This happens to be one such context, since numbers are naturally counted in sequence, whether they take cardinal or ordinal form. There is likely no way to phrase the question that guarantees avoidance. Once things have been listed, the first/1st item on that list will often be referred to as "number one", "No. 1" or "#1" instead. See The Free Dictionary by Farlex's definition of Number One for a reference or virtually any top 10 favorites/"best of" list for an real world examples. Picked randomly for convenience, I will use The I.G.N. list titled "Greg Miller's Top 10 Games of All Time" as an example "(Otherwise, Metal Gear Solid would be No. 2.)" Another example of cardinal numbers being used in an ordinal fashion are dates, particularly the years as you an see on any contemporary calender, take the one on Dartford Grammar School's website for an example.
If you want an answer that will guarantee the ordinal form of a number, you may as well stop reading right here. The best we may reasonably hope to do is pick a question where the answer "should" be in ordinal form and treat their cardinal names just the same, when they're used to suggest a special sequence. It is often a pragmatically unimportant distinction.
The Importance of Prioritized Organization
Now we know the form ordinal numbers may take, we may further our goal of making such an answer. The next necessary step is to choose a systematic method of organization to be able to properly use them. The only consistent system of organization chosen for families is from the earliest born to last born because both numbers and the hypothetical potential for prodigy are unlimited. Names do not make sense since those are arbitrarily chosen. The definition of the word Priority is thus very interesting for our purposes:
There are several a few things to take note of in this definition:
One is the use of the words Place (See also: Position The state of being placed.) and Rank (see: Order as defined above & also Ranked), which in this sense both refer to the process of organization. This allows us to use priority as a method of coming up with ordinal numbers. These are also very good ways to refer to a specific part of the order devised, such as the fifth rank or the ninth place in line.
Another is the sense of the word priority used for debts would be similar to how we use the word prioritize today (Merriam Webster Online), which apparently was not coined until 72 in a U.S. presidential campaign. It most literally means "to make/do/practice priority" according to the online etymology dictionary [see -ize in Webster's Revised Unabridged 1913]". It seems to mean, practice what should be done first or to make an order of importance, such as the sense Webster alluded to in the system of priority debt (also read Priority is an Ordinal Number by Craig Vosper on Value Focused Delivery). I suppose that by virtue of the word's construction, it could also be used to refer to making a system of priority.
I do think the words Priority and Prioritize are both is particularly apt for referring to ordinal numbers, since with an infinite amount there is no "last" number, requiring you to utilize Ordinal numbers in a fashion that is made in priority or rather prioritized. The only time I believe you'll see Ordinal numbers out of a nominal priority sequence is when items on a list are prioritized in reverse, from the least to most important, in order to signify that the item of first importance 'precedes all others in rank, dignity or excellence.'
A Context Sensitive Method of Referring to Order
The last note on the definition of the word Priority is the specific phrase I have emphasized "Priority of Birth." I have not found an independent definition of the entire phrase but the lexical meaning seems clear and what I have found is legal text which may help us learn from context. The term can be found on page 26 of Analytical Digest of Cases Published in the Law Journal Reports, Volume 41, written by Henry D. Barton. in 1888, page 26. It gives us a very interesting usage note in Case v. Drosier, 2 Keen, 764; s.c. 6 Law J. Rep. (s.s.) Chance. 353; and e.c. on app. 5 Myl. & Cr. 246.
This context seems to demonstrate a few very helpful things. The first is that "priority of birth" can be described in the ordinal numbers. This method makes a lot of sense, given that a designation of an unspecific "middle" child can not tell a judge how much of a claim he deserves. The second is that since males and sons are specified, it is tacit that the phrase may also be applied to daughters and females, otherwise there should be no need to express gender. The third is of course that the phrase is some significance, at least in legal contexts.
If you've read this far you might be thinking that I want to suggest the use of the phrase "Priority of Birth". However I have a preference against such cumbersome and unusual phrases where it can be avoided. Instead I'm mostly building up to the importance of another word which is Seniority:
The definitions of "superior age" and "priority of birth" are still echoed in The Free Dictionary and to a lesser extent, Merriam Webster Online (birth is omitted). Now we have a way to describe the concept of "priority of birth" in one word concise word, which may be applied to siblings. Unfortunately the word can also refer to prioritization in office. Still, that the word is also mentioned in the definition of primogeniture, which is a word of importance as I mentioned in the preface, makes Seniority seem like an especially apt option.
Describing the Relationship
We also need to know how to ask about the family. Since the answer includes the words brother, sister and sibling, I'm assuming familiarity with those words. Brethren and Sistren (W.R.U 1913) are also more solemn and old fashioned synonyms for the normal plural forms although Sistren is no longer in common use. As an interesting aside, the Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the word Sibling as we understand it today did not exist until 1902. It was reassigned a new meaning from an older, archaic word for the purposes of genealogical studies and does not even appear in the Webster's Revised Unabridged 1913. Alongside other factors, this made it tempting for me to write a null answer, since if the relationship isn't important enough to have its own word, then why should it be ordered? Nevertheless, let's continue, using Sisters as the stand-in since the original question referenced women.
Among/Amongst is one of the simpler prepositions, words denoting a relationship to a word governed. We mean it in the sense that the prude is associated with or making part of the number of whatever follows and possibly there's an association "of the numbers" with it.
Between meaning mutual relations with two or more may also work. Its more commonly interpreted as occupying the intermediate space, although this might help us get an ordinal answer, since this suggests you want an answer that may fit between two spots on the list as all ordinal numbers after the first might, rather than some other type of relationship.
To help keep a clear form, I'll just use one or the other in examples.
Some Possible Questions to Ask
There are many sentences we might choose to construct with the words I've just discussed. I'll spare the details but two strike me as noteworthy:
It sounds nice and concise but is possibly a little too ambiguous. I could see eldest/oldest. That isn't a problem, since it is synonymous with first in this system of ordering. Maybe "last" or "none" is problematic, although its' arguably not a valid answer. A straight age would not help determine this answer. Middle or middling might be used in a relative sense but these aren't isn't in itself a full answer to the question, unless it's in the middle of three, where only one possible position may be considered the entirety of the middle.
This sentence sounds a little too verbose but it is the hardest to misinterpret that I can think of without resorting to weird words. I'm hoping that the use of the words which and precise will affirm that I'm looking for an exact value, rather than a relative answer. Position aside from being used to designate the rank, is also being used, since you've already been born and hence, placed so the word refers to a fixed sequence of birth. This way we should get the number you were actually born in, rather than your place in the remainder of survivors.
I considered devising an answer using the word "ordinal" to try and make it completely unambiguous but it is implied that part of the reason you're asking is because you do not want to use such an unusual word. I think it'd actually be more ambiguous in conjunction with the word seniority too, since I believe you'd have people thinking about official positions in a nunnery. I think the unsuitability of the word ordinal itself is part of what makes the question so difficult.
This is an attempt at a generic answer to the question of framing questions for which an ordinal answer is required.
To apply it to the specific case in the original question, for example:
To apply this formulation in an entirely different case:
Sometimes, the actual order is implied by the situation:
Note also that using
I am the third daughter (or son) of my parents. OR I am the third child of my parents.
"What is your filial order of birth, to your parents?"
If you aren't the first child/son/daughter of your parents, which are you?
Most people would answer this with an ordinal number.
The answer might be any of these, which use an ordinal number:
An appropriate answer might also be something like
But any other question on this matter might receive this same non-conforming answer. Some people just can't cooperate. Given the latitude that English provides, there is always someone who is a naturally discordant communicator.
As satisfying as it would be if whichth were standard English and you could ask directly, I think you're better off framing it with an example:
The accepted answer is good for formal situations, but I think this is better for everyday conversation. It sounds more casual and since it volunteers information as well as asks for it, it fits into the reciprocal pattern conversations often have.
Thank you for your interest in this question.
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