41

I am French and I am always confused when I have to translate these two French words:

  • numéro de l'objet” = number of the object = a number used to identify the object
  • nombre d'objets” = number of objects = a number used to count objects

These are distinct concepts which are expressed by clearly distinct words in French, but by just the word ‘number’ in English.

Is there a concise, useful way of expressing this distinction in English that sounds natural and fits into normal language usage the way the two French words do?

The context in which I find myself needing this is defining software parameters:

  • numéro of the current software process
  • nombre of running software processes

or in a similar context:

  • numéro of the window
  • nombre of the windows

– but this is not a question about coding. Naming parameters is just one situation where it would be useful to have a simple way of clearly expressing the distinction.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 2 '17 at 16:04

15 Answers 15

40

As a software developer, here are a few phrases that I would prefer:

numéro of the current software process

  • Version of the current software process. A version number is implicitly part of a version, it is what identifies one version from another. If you are talking about software versions specifically; then this is the best option.
  • ID/Identifier of the current software process. This is a more generic programming term, used for any type of identifier.
  • If "software process" refers to a Windows process (or similar), you could also call it the handle of a process. A handle is a type of identifier that is used to retrieve Windows processes (or windows), although (since then) the definition has been broadened slightly to also include similar non-Windows system identifiers.

nombre of running software processes

  • The (total) amount of running software processes (edit this has been contested in the comments below, I edited my answer to reflect this)
  • The (total) count of running software processes (= better to use when communicating with programmers)
  • (addition from edit) The (total) number of running software processes

edit The suggestion to use "amount" is heavily contested, as you can see in the comments below. I agree that "amount" is intended to be used with mass nouns rather than countable items, though I do see cases where it sounds better than using "count".

Both "amount" and "count" have issues. They sound a bit weird, and are not as grammatically correct than I thought.
So I'll offer a third suggestion, which takes us back to the beginning of your question:

The (total) number of running software processes

We've come full circle; but looking back on it now; "number" is my preferred option here. It sounds better and is grammatically more correct than "amount".

I would like to mention that, when speaking in the context of programming specifically, "count" is still perfectly valid. I just find that it sounds a bit weird in general English, when compared to "number".

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 2 '17 at 16:04
20

In software, index or id is used to denote any unique identifier.

The second case is not as well defined, but you can certainly use count.

  • 4
    Can you add a little more to this answer? Maybe technical definitions for each? Adding more support to your answer will help it be accepted and taken by readers. – Hank Jun 28 '17 at 14:06
  • 2
    Programming terminology is very new, so many of the terms used are just conventions, rather than being defined as the right terms. This is why there isn't a word that's always used for the situation in which I used "count." However, "count" is easily understood and probably the most common word for that situation. – RShields Jun 28 '17 at 14:12
  • 1
    I'm not contesting your answer, just suggesting something that may get it more upvotes and give it a better chance at survival. I am aware there may not be a set definitive source for such words but anything that would help a non-native speaker understand the word index will help get better reception from the community. – Hank Jun 28 '17 at 14:15
  • 2
    Please RShields elaborate more your answer to explain to me the meaning in English as proposed by @Hank. Cheers – olibre Jun 28 '17 at 14:19
  • sure, it's "index". or just "position". – Fattie Jun 29 '17 at 14:03
13

To take it out of a coding context, a house number identifies a house uniquely within the context of a street. That's an ID or index number. The number of houses in the street is a count. Just like when writing code you can't assume that max(indices) = count(indices) (in particular the omission of house number 13 is common, as is the existence of houses numbered 7A etc.¹)

This examples serves to demonstrate that in everyday uses we don't distinguish between cardinal and ordinal numbers by word choice. Context, and in the above example word order, do a lot to help.

Of course we can find synonyms that are clearer when we have to: Total/amount/count/quantity for nombre and ID/index/registration number for numéro. These don't generally sound very natural though (that's fine in technical work). In everyday English we'd just say "there are 7 objects, number 6 is the one we're interested in" (back to the house numbers: "there are 14 houses in the street, we want to visit number 15"). As you can see we often avoid using anything equivalent to nombre and use number for numéro.


¹ Zero-based indices further complicated things, and that's all I need to say about them.

  • 6
    +1 for responding to the OP's note that the answer could apply outside of the programming context. In general, it looks like we do have synonyms for nombre, as you've identified, and for numéro we generally use an appropriate adjective (or attributive noun) appended to number. In addition to those you've listed, just off the top of my head I can think of serial number, apartment number, episode number, volume number, etc. – 1006a Jun 28 '17 at 18:25
  • You are absolutely right in a general context; but because index has a very specific meaning to the field of software development (= an item's relative position in an array); you cannot ignore that strict(er) definition; as it will lead to misunderstandings in the actual context. – Flater Jun 29 '17 at 15:52
  • @Flater that's why I didn't suggest address which is equally specific and less appropriate. If you're going to stick to software, there's (primary) key in the database sense. – Chris H Jun 29 '17 at 18:21
  • @ChrisH: We're not talking about databases, but software. "Primary key" is much narrower (both context-wise and meaning-wise. That's like saying "car" and "Mercedes" have the same meaning) It specifically denotes the automatically indexed identifier of a database. "Identifier" or "ID" denotes any data that can be used to refer to a single (uniquely identifiable) object. A primary key is an ID; but not every ID is a primary key. "Address" is even further removed from the correct meaning as it denotes the label of a location in computer memory (not just any sort of label or location!) – Flater Jun 30 '17 at 7:30
  • 2
    @Flater reading the question as narrowly as you do, the appropriatre course of action is to vote to close it as off topic (we have a specific reason related to coding jargon). Reading it in a broader sense given the last paragraph the caveat I open with is more than enough. I'll fix any actual errors in my answer but won't edit the context or discuss further – Chris H Jun 30 '17 at 8:19
7

There are no 'short English words to distinguish these two different meanings of “number”' in the way that French has two different words. They simply don't exist. Number is used for both. That's just how it is. Just accept it and learn to know which concept is intended from context.

For the examples you give, you'd usually speak of a process identifier, process id, or PID, but process number would work too.

Current process number: 7494

For "how many" processes are running currently, "count" or "number" could be used:

Number of running processes: 53

or

Process count: 53

It might help you to do a google books search for "number" to review a large number of uses of the word so that you can get more familiar with how we use it.

  • 1
    This is the correct answer in the non-coding context specifically solicited. Difficult to give chapter and verse, but that's the way languages work. Different languages have words to make distinctions others don't. – David Jun 29 '17 at 12:27
  • this is wrong. the only slightly technical words are "index" or "ordinal", and "count" or "total". of course, indeed "number" can be used for both (it's totally unsurprising that English has a lot of ambiguity) – Fattie Jun 29 '17 at 14:04
  • Google translate for numéro and nombre = number. OP gets nothing. +1 ;) – Mazura Jun 29 '17 at 22:50
  • "Quantity" means nombre – pickarooney Jun 30 '17 at 14:47
5

For the context of software programs, I think you just about answered the question yourself. I'll highlight some key words:

  • “numéro de l'objet” = number of the object = a number used to identify the object
  • “nombre d'objets” = number of objects = a number used to count objects

I deliberately did not highlight the word “number” in the first one. That's because it isn't significant that this happens to be a number. Maybe it's a number here, but the same concept elsewhere could be just a string of text. The key point is that we want to identify something, so this is often called an identifier, or abbreviated as ID.

In programming languages where the custom is to use lowercase names, we would use id instead of ID, but in normal writing, ID is always capitalized. You would talk about a process ID, not a process id. One exception is when you're writing documentation about a variable named id in the source code. You would keep the lowercase but use a typographic convention as I did in the previous sentence.

An operating system process ID usually is a number for efficiency, but HTML documents also have IDs: any HTML element can have an id attribute that uniquely identifies it, and this ID can be any string of text.

So we might talk about a process ID or element ID; calling either a number would sound odd, even if the process ID does happen to be a number.

For the second concept, you might use either number or count depending on the wording. The process count is another way to say the number of processes; you could use whichever fit better with what you're trying to say.

Moving outside software programming, it gets a little more confusing. Remember, this is English! We may well call something a “number” that isn't.

These days a phone number is understood to be a string of digits, i.e. an actual number (if we ignore any punctuation). But we still call it a phone number when it's spelled out fully with the spaces and dashes and parentheses and what-not.

Phone numbers weren't always just made of numerals. There is a famous old American song called Pennsylvania 6-5000. The song is named after the phone number of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City at the time, PEnnsylvania 6-5000.

The two capital letters at the beginning of the phone number indicate the part you would actually dial. You can look on your phone dial to see what the digits would be for each of these letters. (By the way, does your phone have a dial?)

So you would actually dial 736-5000, but nobody memorized a phone number that way. I remember my very first childhood phone number, DIamond 5-5844, but I couldn't tell you what digits corresponded to the D and I.

Along the same lines, if I send you an invoice for my consulting services, it will have an invoice number on it. This number definitely won't be a number! It may be something like 2017-06-29-OL-A. But it's still called an invoice number.

We might also use the word code. You may have an access number, but you're as likely to have an access code. In fact, if you're dialing into a phone teleconference, you probably have an access number (the dial-in phone number) and an access code (the conference ID number that you punch in after the conference line answers). Amusingly, the access number is probably not written as a number (there will usually be some punctuation), while the access code is almost always just a number!

Which brings us back to the identifier I started with. As I said, the phrase “process number” would sound a bit odd and we would say “process ID” instead. So why do we call it an “invoice number” or “phone number” when it may not be a number at all and “identifier” might make more sense? That's English for you!

3

numéro of the current software process

To avoid ambiguity, the general approach here is to add a noun before the word "Number"

"The process number of the current process"

"The version number of the software"

"Please fill out form number 103b."

nombre of running software processes

Other than number, the most natural and unambiguous term to use would be amount, but that normally refers to continuous values whereas number is for discrete ones. You could say 'quantity' but that sounds less natural in casual speech. As others have said, the most casual & natural sounding is to prefix "number" with "total"

"The total number of running software processes."

Pluralisation

Usually the best way to disambiguate is by pluralisation. The noun associated with numéro will be singular.

"the current software process"

Whereas nombre will be plural

"running software processes"

  • In terms of practical advice this seems the best fit to bridge the gap between languages. – Stilez Jul 1 '17 at 8:00
2

As Yosef Baskin noted in the comments,"count" when referring to a quantity, and "number" for an identifier

  • number of the current process
  • count of running processes

or

  • The count of players on a football team is 11.
  • That football player is number 31.
1

Numeral number seems to be the right recent translation for numéro. It refers to numbers used as IDs, they are not mathematical numbers with mathematical properties and such: they are just kind of words written with digits.

In mathematics, there exists two kinds of numbers: ordinal and cardinals. The first refers to ordering, first, second, third, etc; and the second to quantity one dog, two cats, three bananas, etc.

In French, nombre usually refers to cardinal while it is more context dependent for numéro. It's sometimes used as ordinal (numéro de rue/house number in a given street) but sometimes just as ID (numéro de sécurité sociale/social security number).

1

Since this is not just about coding, I suspect you are looking for a general purpose answer that addresses how the word number is used under these circumstance of count and identification. It is very simple, in practice:

  • numéro de l'objet = number of the object = a number used to identify the object
  • nombre d'objets = number of objects = a number used to count objects

Then you have

  • numéros des objets = numbers of the objects = the numbers used to identify the objects (e.g., item numbers)

If you are talking about a lottery, you might say:

  • number of players = the count of players
  • numbers of the players = the identifying numbers of the players

If you are discussing jurors (members of a jury)

  • number of jurors = count of jurors
  • numbers of the jurors = the numbers used to identify each of the jurors, also referred to as the jurors' numbers where I live.

If it is a single juror (or object):

  • number of the juror (or juror's number) = the number used to identify the single juror
  • number of the [object] = the number used to identify the single object

I think you will notice that the primary distinction is where the English usage parallels French usage with the use of the definite article the (le/la/les in French). The fact that French uses two similar but different words does not have a parallel in English. (The English word numeral comes to mind, but it's a "false friend" to numéro and it isn't used in your examples of count and identity.)

Of course, you can see from other answers that there are other ways to make the distinction, and they might even be preferable. I simply want to make sure you understand that the word number can be used in your broad examples, and it's not necessary to resort to the jargon of any particular case.

1

Consider:

Michel: What is the number of contestants the bachelor is allowed to choose?

nombre

Michelle: Just one. I hope it is contestant number three.

numéro

Michel: Ah. She will win, I think. I saw him ask her for her number during the commercial.

numéro

Michelle: I hope she didn't give it to him! Then he would have no reason to pick her number to win the exotic vacation in France.

nombre

Michel: I'm afraid she did. But Mon Dieu! You are crying! She can play again!

Michelle: No, the number of times one can appear on this show is limited to three, and this is appearance number three for her.

numéro nombre

Michel: You are so sensitive! Such a sweet heart for an American. There must be a number of ways we can help her find love. I suggest we plan at my pla--

numéro

Michelle: Back off, buster. I have your number and you are barking up the wrong arbre (AR-bray). Contestant number three is my sister and I only wanted her to pick me up a few bottles of Chanel Nos. 3,5, & 7.

nombre numéro numéro numéro numéro

Frankly, I don't believe we have a way of distinguishing, um, logologically. A clear deficiency in English. On the other hand, we don't have to mess with Ç, é, â, ê, î, ô, û, à, è, ù, ë, ï, or ü. Great question.

0

In English we also have the term 'numeral'. For example, on a telephone pad, between 1 and 3 is the numeral 2.

  • 3
    Yes, but if we lived at 55 Main Street, we would say that 55 is the street number and not the street numeral. However, in French, 55 would be a numéro de rue and not a nombre. – Peter Shor Jun 28 '17 at 17:21
  • @PeterShor - 55 is the address. Street numbers correspond to their position in the grid system, the blocks of which are usually expressed in hundreds (prescribed by the two adjoining perpendicular streets), assuming it wasn't designed by an idiot. – Mazura Jun 29 '17 at 22:44
  • @Mazura - street numbers in the UK, at least, are just counts -- we start at 1 (usually... there are exceptions of course) and just increment, often (but not always) having the even numbers on one side of the road and odd on the other. In my experience the block number coding (houses in block NN are numbered from NN01) is an American phenomenon. I will not attempt to generalise further! – AAT Jun 30 '17 at 9:47
  • @Mazura; 55 is not the address. It is part of the address, and in the U.S., this part is often called the street number. (It's also called the house number, if you prefer that term.) – Peter Shor Jul 1 '17 at 12:47
  • @PeterShor - A house('s) number, sure; not a street('s) number. "Cities in North America, particularly those planned on a grid plan, often incorporate block numbers, quadrants (explained below), and cardinal directions into their street numbers, so that in many such cities, addresses roughly follow a Cartesian coordinate system." – Address(geography) – Mazura Jul 1 '17 at 18:27
0

In normal usage, you have already translated the two words perfectly in your question, and the two usages of the word "number" are distinguished by readers (or listeners) effortlessly by context. When used as a noun referring to a singular noun or value, or as a verb with a singular object, it describes an identifying value ("numéro"); as a verb with a plural object it refers to assigning identifying values. Otherwise, when the word "number" is used with a plural noun, it refers to a quantity ("nombre"). Without context, the word "number" refers just to a value with unknown or purely mathematical purpose. For a verb meaning finding a quantity, "count" or "total" are much preferred; "number" might be used but only when the full context suggests that actual identifying values would not be wanted.

For a variable name, you should value clarity over brevity, and make the name descriptive enough to be unambiguous. In the very limited context of your question, and if brevity is helpful, I might use "process" for its "numéro", and "processes" for their "nombre".

0

I like the index/count suggestion people are giving for software, but more generally you can use the word "number" for an identifying number and "total" for the count.

"Of the ten apples, this is number six."
"There are ten total apples."/"There are ten apples total."

But many times you can/will avoid the issue entirely for a count:

"How many apples are there?"
"There are ten apples."

Now suppose all ten apples have their number on a sticker applied to the apple, and they arrived out of order. As you inspect them, you might need to know how many apples you have inspected so far, which is neither the total number of apples nor the identifier on the apple. You could call this the "count (so far)" or the "cumulative total," though the latter is often used when you're summing instead of just counting.

"What is the count so far?"
"So far, we've inspected eight apples."

  • "Ten total apples" does not sound right to the native BrE speaker! You could say "Ten apples in total". ("Ten total apples" implies that there is such a thing as a "total apple" and you have 10 of them... are there some partial apples also? <g>) – AAT Jun 30 '17 at 9:51
  • 1
    @AAT Thanks for the suggestion. I added an additional example. – Devsman Jun 30 '17 at 15:55
0

I think the distinction you're hoping to achieve is reflected in the two words cardinal and ordinal as applied to numbers:

[cardinal number:][1] Also called cardinal numeral. any of the numbers that express amount, as one, two, three, etc. (distinguished from ordinal number). 

Naturally, in the right contexts, these have been shorted to "cardinals" and "ordinals", i.e., making them nouns in their own right.

0

Clearly in French three clues differentiate numéro de l'objet and nombre d'objets and in English only two separate number of the object and number of objects. Does that mean it’s 50% harder in English?

Either way, why is it difficult to use nombre=count/total/… or numéro=identity/signifier/…

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.