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How to phrase an asking sentence that must be answered with an ordinal number?
Framing a question to which the answer is an ordinal number

Given that I want to know Barack Obama is the 44th President of U.S.A, how can I frame a question like:

The how manyeth president is Barack Obama?

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5  
Incidentally Barack Obama is the 43rd (not 44th) man to be President - there have been only 42 other men to hold the post. Grover Cleaveland held office twice with a break in between and that messed up the counting! –  Matt Grum Dec 8 '11 at 13:22
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marked as duplicate by Steve Melnikoff, RegDwigнt Apr 20 '11 at 10:44

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10 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I'd go with the following structure:

Q: Where does Obama fall in the sequence of US presidents?

A: [He's the] 44th [president].

This reflects similar usage when discussing, for instance, rankings:

Q: Where did Harvard fall on the U.S. News & World Report list this year?

A: 2nd.

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I am finding italics and bold a bit harsh on my eyes, maybe it's got to do with age. :) –  Kris Dec 8 '11 at 11:36
    
@Kris really? I find them ever so soothing. –  onomatomaniak Dec 8 '11 at 11:54
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Wonder if stand could stand in place of fall? –  Kris Dec 8 '11 at 11:59
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Edited for the optically sensitive among us. ^_^ –  onomatomaniak Dec 8 '11 at 12:00
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To clarify, Obama is the 43rd individual to be president, holds the 44th presidency, and the 56th presidential term. –  Ray Dec 8 '11 at 14:29
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There is not a word specifically meaning "how manyth" that is in common usage in America. The closest word, though it would be ambiguous, is which, as in Barack Obama is which American President? But you might get an answer like "The current one" or "The black one" or "The one who did the big health care law" and those would all be considered reasonable answers.

If you make it clear you're asking for the ordinal number by giving context, then "which one" is a common usage: Obama is the 44th POTUS. Which one was Hoover? It gets clearer if you ask which number president is Obama? but I do not like how that sounds because people generally take "number" to mean a cardinal number (like 44) not an ordinal (like 44th). While you could ask which ordinal number president is Obama? only a mathematician would consider that a reasonable phrasing and most other people wouldn't even understand it.

Because we do not have a word specifically for it, phrasing the question to get the answer you want in a way that is unambiguous and strictly grammatically correct gets does get somewhat convoluted and sounds awkward, but since we all know there isn't a better way to ask, we accept it.

Personally, when speaking informally, I'd ask like this:

Me: Which president is Obama? He: The current one. Me: I mean which number? Like the 40th or something?

When writing formally, I'd work around it with something like

G. H. W. Bush was the 41st president, G. W. Bush was the 43rd president, but which one was J. F. Kennedy?

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What about this? "How many presidents come before Obama?" –  Meysam Apr 27 '12 at 7:25
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@Meysam, "come" is slang for "ejaculate", so that would be unacceptably open to several rude interpretations. Besides, the answer to your question is 43 and the answer the OP wants is 44th. –  Old Pro Apr 27 '12 at 7:30
    
As for OldPro's last example, citing Bush and Bush as 41 & 43, that's a good way to word it, but you'd want to instead list Washington and Adams as 1st and 2nd, or maybe Buchanan and Lincoln as 15th and 16th, if this was being asked as a trivia question. (Bush was too close to the Kennedy era that such a wording would give away the answer, as too many people could simply count backwards from memory and calculate the answer: Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy; ergo 41-5 = 36) –  J.R. May 21 '12 at 8:34
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This is quite a tough question. My suggestion is:

  • How many presidencies preceded Obama? 43
  • Including Obama, how many presidencies have we had? 44
  • Which president count does Obama have?
  • What's the chronological number of obama as a president of America?

I hope I could help you a bit

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-1 for factual inaccuracies. Though Obama has the 44th presidency, he is not the 44th individual to be president of the United States. Grover Cleveland was #22 and #24, which throws things off a bit. We have had 43 presidents, and 42 presidents preceded Obama. –  Ray Dec 8 '11 at 14:27
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I think the OP wants this to be question structure which could be asked of any president. I think giving examples would make it clear.

If George Washington was the 1st President of the United States, and John Adams was the 2nd, what number president is Barack Obama?

Obviously if you wanted to ask the question on John Adams you could simply replace his example with another; e.g. Theodore Roosevelt (the 26th).

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Good answer, +1! –  fredley Dec 8 '11 at 14:23
    
+1 Brilliant one! –  Terry Li Dec 8 '11 at 14:54
    
@Adam Lynch: Can we apply this derivation to "What is Obama's number in the order of US Presidents?" –  Kris Dec 10 '11 at 7:42
    
Afterthought: Don't use blanks like "If George Washington was the 1st President of the United States, and John Adams was the 2nd, Barack Obama is the _____?" because it will just encourage creative answers –  Adam Lynch Jul 18 '12 at 7:42
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In the numerical listing of Presidents of the United States, what number was Obama?

or shortly

What number is president Obama?

I heard the latter from Jay Leno while he was asking this to a girl in his show.

Another alternative, as suggested in the below comments, is:

What number president is Obama?

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+1. I think “What number is president Obama?” and “What number president is Obama?” are best in terms of clarity and concision. –  Jon Purdy Dec 8 '11 at 13:13
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+1 to the second one. I'd phrase it as "What number president is Obama?", like Jon –  Izkata Dec 8 '11 at 13:37
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Is "what number president" even grammatical? –  onomatomaniak Dec 8 '11 at 15:16
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"What is Obama's number in the order of US Presidents?"

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What is the chronological position of Barack Obama among Presidents of the United States??

or

What is the chronological position of Barack Obama as the President of United States??

or

What is the chronological number of Barack Obama as the President of United States??

Ans : Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States.

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While a good suggestion, I think chronological is too vague. One might answer that he was the president elected in 2008, or call him simply the most recent president. –  onomatomaniak Dec 8 '11 at 9:32
    
@onomatomaniak added an additional answer :) please see, if thats more correct. –  COD3BOY Dec 8 '11 at 9:39
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For a relatively well-educated audience, you might try:

What ordinal number represents the position of Barack Obama in the succession of US presidents?

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'Which President of the United States is (or was) the 44th?' (But I'm not sure I understand the question.)

EDIT: Now that I understand the question, I think you might need to put the question as How many Presidents of the US have there been, including the present one? Alternatively, Fill in the blank. ‘Barack Obama is the - th President of the US’.

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Thanks Barrie England. :) But, as per your question, the answer is Obama. But I need the "44th" as a answer,which means the question should contain Obama's name. –  Dinesh Dec 8 '11 at 8:37
    
I hope now you can understand the question. I need the answer as "44th", not "Obama". Thanking you :) –  Dinesh Dec 8 '11 at 8:39
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Is Barack Obama the 44th president?

What number is President Barack Obama in the line of presidents in the USA?

How many presidents were there before President Barack Obama?

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i think 1st one is not anything even near my question , then 3rd one will give 43 as answer , i want 44 as answer , 2nd one is that appropriate ?? –  Harish Apr 20 '11 at 9:24
    
The second one is appropriate and ok. I was just giving you options. –  masarah Apr 20 '11 at 18:13
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