I read on https://jobs-nuance.icims.com/jobs/23929/stagiaire-compr%C3%A9hension-du-langage-naturel---automne-2016-natural-language-understanding-intern---fall-2016/job :

Faire partie du premier cinquième des étudiants du même domaine.

which is used to mean:

Belonging to the top 20% students in the same field.

Can "premier cinquième" mean top 20%? Does it sound fluent, or is there any other expression that would sound more fluent?

The text is likely to have been written by a Québécois: maybe it is a Québécois expression?

  • Hi. I would use "faire partie des cinq premiers de ..." to refer to the top 5 (instead of the top 20%) of whatever group of people. Oct 16, 2016 at 9:33
  • 1
    @LUNA I'm probably missing something but wouldn't the size of the group have to be [exactly] 25 (or whatever "5,0/0,2 equals in case my math is wrong) in order for "cinq premiers"/"top five" to work (i.e., in order for it to maintain the value of 20% [one fifth])?
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 16, 2016 at 14:34
  • @PapaPoule Hi. No. The phrase I suggested has nothing to do with the percentage 20%. What I meant there was just how to express the idea of the top 5, not 20%. Just a suggestion of a similar phrase. Oct 16, 2016 at 15:36
  • I agree w/@Nico that "premier cinquième means top 20%” & to the extent that I even know what fluent French sounds like, I agree w/that part, too. Not sure if the following are idiomatic/correct French (hence they’re offered as a comment that might give you something to pursue), but for an option that could perhaps permit using “20%” maybe you could add “[première] tranche de [20%]”; & for one that doesn't need “premier,” perhaps “percentile” (which in English, at least, already has the “X% and above” idea built in) could work: “Faire partie (au moins/minimum) du/au 80e centile des …”
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 16, 2016 at 19:09
  • That's a tough one! Part of it is fractions, part of it is the approximation, part of it is about creating an entity which allows for ranking (and the order of the ordinal and numeral may vary accordingly; and you may have more flexibility in Qc with some of that), part of it is about the influence of the English language. But it is not about an expression per se imho.
    – user3177
    Oct 17, 2016 at 12:02

3 Answers 3


Yes, "premier cinquième" means top 20%. And it sounds completely fluent in french !

  • Première moitié, premier tiers, premier quart, premier… quint?? Oct 17, 2016 at 9:46
  • 1
    @StéphaneGimenez "premier quintile" s'utilise parfois.
    – radouxju
    Oct 17, 2016 at 14:05

"Premier cinquième" sounds fluent in French, and means top 20%. This is actually used for fractions, so you just have to translate it as a fraction to better understand the value : 1/5 = 0.2 = 20%. However you won't hear "deuxième cinquième, troisième cinquième ..." very often.

If you want to use fractions, there are a few exceptions : 1/2 -> "un demi" 1/3 -> "un tiers" 1/4 -> "un quart"

For other values, you just have to say the numerator (Top part of the fraction) first as a classic number and then the denominator (Bottom part of the fraction) as an ordinal number (First, second ...).

Here are a few examples : 2/5 -> "deux cinquièmes" 5/8 -> "cinq huitièmes " 10/11 -> "dix onzièmes"

Fraction expressed this way are often seen in written documents. The exceptions that I mentioned "un demi", "un tiers", "un quart", are used orally and most of the time people resort to percentage for further fraction like 1/5, 1/6 ...

Hope this helps.

Premier cinquième => Top 20% (to define a position/ranking),

Un cinquième => 1/5 (to qualify an amount)

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