As I understand it, a question like “Der Wievielte ist heute?” can be used to inquire about the date. Are there other phrases in German like this that seem to take an interrogative word or phrase like wie viel and convert it into something that looks like an adjectival noun (der wie-viel-te)? If not, does anyone have sources on the origin of the phrase or in what contexts it’s used?

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    I was questioning the adjectival noun idea, until I realised that ordinalised question word essentially arrived at the same spot … From my understanding, the word wievielte comes from asking for a replacement ordinal number; compare non-standard how-many-ith in English. – Jan Oct 22 '15 at 23:12
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    Zum wievielten Mal sage ich dir das? – chirlu Oct 23 '15 at 3:13

So as you say, wievielt is an adjective, which can of course be used in many other situations. Take your example, which nounifies it: der Weivielte ist heute? This could be re-written in in its adjectival form: (der) wievielte Tag des Monats ist heute?

If playing around with this as a noun or an adjective, one musn't forget: if you transform an adjective it into a noun (as can be done with almost any adjective: see the third example below), then it requires a capital letter. Here are some comparable uses:

  1. beim wievielten Versuch hat er es endlich geschafft?
  2. das wievielte Mal bist du jetzt dort gewesen?
  3. das ist ja doch etwas Besonderes

It is formed analogously to the ordinal numbers, e.g. first/erster, second/zweiter and which (read: the how-many’th)/wievielter. [all German versions shown in the masculine singular, the der form].

As to there being comparable constructions out there… I am sure there are. The issue here is, however, that interrogatives produced from several words are few and far between — wie viel is the only multi-word interrogative (that I can think of).

Other words look like they may have followed a similar path to becoming an adjective, just like wievielter, e.g. current/derzeitiger and diverse/vielfältiger (~ many-sided).

Notice that derzeitig is a combination of the words die and Zeit, rounded off with the ig adjectival ending. The die must however appear in the genitive, as it belongs to the noun it describes. Example:

Die  derzeitige  Zeitung  --> Die Zeitung der Zeit --> The newspaper of the time 
The  current     newspaper
  • Please try not to use the monospace code-formatting on this Stack Exchange whenever possible. Italics and blockquote formatting are so much easier to parse and read (and look nicer on the page). The only exception I can think of is tables as the one at the very end of your post where monospacing actually serves a purpose. – Jan Oct 24 '15 at 16:15
  • On another note, please don’t point out spelling or grammatical mistakes in the OP’s posting that are not relevant to the question in your answer. Rather, edit the OP’s post and if in doubt add a comment explaining why you edited. – Jan Oct 24 '15 at 16:17
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    @Jan ok, thanks for the formatting tips. You said I pointed out a mistake in the OP... which? – n1k31t4 Oct 25 '15 at 12:50
  • The first paragraph of the answer regarding capitalisation. OP originally didn’capitalise Wievielte but that has since been corrected. – Jan Oct 26 '15 at 12:31
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    Oh, if we read it like that, then it’s fine, but maybe make it clearer that you’re saying that because of the duality ^^ – Jan Oct 26 '15 at 12:35

Some speakers accept W-words at basically any position, such as verbs. E.g. here:

„Du wurdest hier getagged.“
„Ich wurde gewast?“

This is colloquial, and speakers will vary in their acceptance of this phrase. But I’d argue it’s near universally understood, at least spoken (it needs the question emphasis, and it helps to not have the low-frequency orthography make it stand out).

Across languages, this is not particularly strange — Chinese questions are formed by replacing, in the same position, the word the question is about with a question word and leaving the rest of the sentence as-is. But in standard, especially written, German, the construction is more limited.

  • When you say "particularly strange," are you referring to the fact that Chinese wh-words are in situ? The property of adding past participle morphology onto the wh-word was in your example seems remarkable. Do you know of a morphologically richer language that may use in situ question words but in conjunction with morphology, as you're showing here? – Kuscheltierliebhaber Oct 27 '15 at 19:31
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    I don't know much about morphologically rich languages, I have to admit. I think I've heard of non-indo-european languages that also allow wh-infixes, but can't think of a source right now. I just meant in situ wh, but you're right, that'd be an interesting question. – jona Oct 28 '15 at 15:13

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