I'm trying to figure out how to phrase a question to know a person's current number in a position. For example:

Mr. X is the 15th prime minister of India.

What is the correct question to ask about Mr. X to receive an answer of "15th"?

  • 2
    +1, as there are a lot of ways to ask this that sound awkward (I can't come up with a concise and clear phrasing myself). One point you might clarify is who you intend to ask, as asking Mr. X himself and a historian or lay person might require different phrasings. – Patrick M Oct 16 '14 at 18:45
  • Take a look at this question: How to ask a question to get an ordinal number answer. It has some good answers which might be of interest to you. – Manish Giri Oct 16 '14 at 19:01
  • There's a succint and upvoted answer here – Stuart Allen Dec 30 '17 at 9:54

The formal way to ask this is to ask about the ordinality of the position. In this case, you'd ask:

What is the ordinality of Mr. X among prime ministers of India?

However, I don't know that this question would be understood by most native speakers (ordinality is not a very common word). If you were asking a native speaker, the informal, though not really "correct" way would be:

What number prime minister is Mr. X?

Generically, the What number [position] is [person]? would be understood by most native speakers, and give you the results you desire.

  • If you Google 'ordinality of M. Thatcher among Prime Ministers of GB', it does not immediately give you what you are looking for. Moreover ordinality (why does my spell-checker not like it) used on its own would not necessarily refer to the chronological order. It could mean the order in terms of length of time served. MT was, I think,the 53rd PM, but 7th in terms of length of time served. Ordinality could refer to all sorts of things including the length of the incumbents' noses. – WS2 Oct 16 '14 at 21:47
  • Ordinality of course can mean a lot of things. But, unless you want to get pedantic, when we refer to the "number" of a position, generally it's safe to assume that we mean order in position. Since that's the case, I would recommend that if you are looking for the incumbents ordinality among length of terms served, you should ask specifically that. But yes, it could technically, without clarification, be the number of whoever based on length of their nose. – Nick2253 Oct 16 '14 at 23:34

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