AskDefine | Define arithmetic

Dictionary Definition

arithmetic adj : relating to or involving arithmetic; "arithmetical computations" [syn: arithmetical] n : the branch of pure mathematics dealing with the theory of numerical calculations

User Contributed Dictionary



From arsmetike, from arismetique, from arithmetica, from Ancient Greek sc=polytonic (sc=polytonic), from sc=polytonic. Used in English since 13th Century.


  • sense noun , /əˈrɪθmətɪk/, /@"rITm@tIk/
  • sense adjective , /ærɪθˈmɛtɪk/, /

Extensive Definition

Arithmetic or arithmetics (from the Greek word αριθμός = number) is the oldest and most elementary branch of mathematics, used by almost everyone, for tasks ranging from simple day-to-day counting to advanced science and business calculations. In common usage, the word refers to a branch of (or the forerunner of) mathematics which records elementary properties of certain operations on numbers. Professional mathematicians sometimes use the term (higher) arithmetic when referring to number theory, but this should not be confused with elementary arithmetic.


The prehistory of arithmetic is limited to a very small number of small artifacts indicating a clear conception of addition and subtraction, the best-known being the Ishango bone from central Africa, dating from somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000 BC.
It is clear that the Babylonians had solid knowledge of almost all aspects of elementary arithmetic by 1800 BC, although historians can only guess at the methods utilized to generate the arithmetical results - as shown, for instance, in the clay tablet Plimpton 322, which appears to be a list of Pythagorean triples, but with no workings to show how the list was originally produced. Likewise, the Egyptian Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (dating from c. 1650 BC, though evidently a copy of an older text from c. 1850 BC) shows evidence of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division being used within a unit fraction system.
Nicomachus (c. AD60 - c. AD120) summarised the philosophical Pythagorean approach to numbers, and their relationships to each other, in his Introduction to Arithmetic. At this time, basic arithmetical operations were highly complicated affairs; it was the method known as the "Method of the Indians" (Latin "Modus Indorum") that became the arithmetic that we know today. Indian arithmetic was much simpler than Greek arithmetic due to the simplicity of the Indian number system, which had a zero and place-value notation. The 7th century Syriac bishop Severus Sebhokt mentioned this method with admiration, stating however that the Method of the Indians was beyond description. The Arabs learned this new method and called it hesab. Fibonacci (also known as Leonardo of Pisa) introduced the "Method of the Indians" to Europe in 1202. In his book "Liber Abaci", Fibonacci says that, compared with this new method, all other methods had been mistakes. In the Middle Ages, arithmetic was one of the seven liberal arts taught in universities.
Modern algorithms for arithmetic (both for hand and electronic computation) were made possible by the introduction of Arabic numerals and decimal place notation for numbers. Arabic numeral based arithmetic was developed by the great Indian mathematicians Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta and Bhāskara I. Aryabhatta tried different place value notations and Brahmagupta added zero to the Indian number system. Brahmagupta developed modern multiplication, division, addition and subtraction based on Arabic numerals. Although it is now considered elementary, its simplicity is the culmination of thousands of years of mathematical development. By contrast, the ancient mathematician Archimedes devoted an entire work, The Sand Reckoner, to devising a notation for a certain large integer. The flourishing of algebra in the medieval Islamic world and in Renaissance Europe was an outgrowth of the enormous simplification of computation through decimal notation.

Decimal arithmetic

Decimal notation constructs all real numbers from the basic digits, the first ten non-negative integers 0,1,2,...,9. A decimal numeral consists of a sequence of these basic digits, with the "denomination" of each digit depending on its position with respect to the decimal point: for example, 507.36 denotes 5 hundreds (10²), plus 0 tens (101), plus 7 units (100), plus 3 tenths (10-1) plus 6 hundredths (10-2). An essential part of this notation (and a major stumbling block in achieving it) was conceiving of zero as a number comparable to the other basic digits.
Algorism comprises all of the rules of performing arithmetic computations using a decimal system for representing numbers in which numbers written using ten symbols having the values 0 through 9 are combined using a place-value system (positional notation), where each symbol has ten times the weight of the one to its right. This notation allows the addition of arbitrary numbers by adding the digits in each place, which is accomplished with a 10 x 10 addition table. (A sum of digits which exceeds 9 must have its 10-digit carried to the next place leftward.) One can make a similar algorithm for multiplying arbitrary numbers because the set of denominations is closed under multiplication. Subtraction and division are achieved by similar, though more complicated algorithms.

Arithmetic operations

The traditional arithmetic operations are addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, although more advanced operations (such as manipulations of percentages, square root, exponentiation, and logarithmic functions) are also sometimes included in this subject. Arithmetic is performed according to an order of operations. Any set of objects upon which all four operations of arithmetic can be performed (except division by zero), and wherein these four operations obey the usual laws, is called a field.

Addition (+)

Addition is the basic operation of arithmetic. In its simplest form, addition combines two numbers, the addends or terms, into a single number, the sum.
Adding more than two numbers can be viewed as repeated addition; this procedure is known as summation and includes ways to add infinitely many numbers in an infinite series; repeated addition of the number one is the most basic form of counting.
Addition is commutative and associative so the order in which the terms are added does not matter. The identity element of addition (the additive identity) is 0, that is, adding zero to any number will yield that same number. Also, the inverse element of addition (the additive inverse) is the opposite of any number, that is, adding the opposite of any number to the number itself will yield the additive identity, 0. For example, the opposite of 7 is (-7), so 7 + (-7) = 0. Addition can be given geometrically as follows.
If a and b are the lengths of two sticks, then if we place the sticks one after the other, the length of the stick thus formed will be a+b

Subtraction (−)

Subtraction is essentially the opposite of addition. Subtraction finds the difference between two numbers, the minuend minus the subtrahend. If the minuend is larger than the subtrahend, the difference will be positive; if the minuend is smaller than the subtrahend, the difference will be negative; and if they are equal, the difference will be zero.
Subtraction is neither commutative nor associative. For that reason, it is often helpful to look at subtraction as addition of the minuend and the opposite of the subtrahend, that is a − b = a + (−b). When written as a sum, all the properties of addition hold.

Multiplication (×, ·, or *)

Multiplication is in essence repeated addition, or the sum of a list of identical numbers. Multiplication finds the product of two numbers, the multiplier and the multiplicand, sometimes both simply called factors.
Multiplication, as it is really repeated addition, is commutative and associative; further it is distributive over addition and subtraction. The multiplicative identity is 1, that is, multiplying any number by 1 will yield that same number. Also, the multiplicative inverse is the reciprocal of any number, that is, multiplying the reciprocal of any number by the number itself will yield the multiplicative identity.

Division (÷ or /)

Division is essentially the opposite of multiplication. Division finds the quotient of two numbers, the dividend divided by the divisor. Any dividend divided by zero is undefined. For positive numbers, if the dividend is larger than the divisor, the quotient will be greater than one, otherwise it will be less than one (a similar rule applies for negative numbers). The quotient multiplied by the divisor always yields the dividend.
Division is neither commutative nor associative. As it is helpful to look at subtraction as addition, it is helpful to look at division as multiplication of the dividend times the reciprocal of the divisor, that is a ÷ b = a × 1⁄b. When written as a product, it will obey all the properties of multiplication.


Multiplication table

Number theory

The term arithmetic is also used to refer to number theory. This includes the properties of integers related to primality, divisibility, and the solution of equations by integers, as well as modern research which is an outgrowth of this study. It is in this context that one runs across the fundamental theorem of arithmetic and arithmetic functions. A Course in Arithmetic by Serre reflects this usage, as do such phrases as first order arithmetic or arithmetical algebraic geometry. Number theory is also referred to as 'the higher arithmetic', as in the title of H. Davenport's book on the subject.

Arithmetic in education

Primary education in mathematics often places a strong focus on algorithms for the arithmetic of natural numbers, integers, rational numbers (vulgar fractions), and real numbers (using the decimal place-value system). This study is sometimes known as algorism.
The difficulty and unmotivated appearance of these algorithms has long led educators to question this curriculum, advocating the early teaching of more central and intuitive mathematical ideas. One notable movement in this direction was the New Math of the 1960s and '70s, which attempted to teach arithmetic in the spirit of axiomatic development from set theory, an echo of the prevailing trend in higher mathematics.
Since the introduction of the electronic calculator, which can perform the algorithms far more efficiently than humans, an influential school of educators has argued that mechanical mastery of the standard arithmetic algorithms is no longer necessary. In their view, the first years of school mathematics could be more profitably spent on understanding higher-level ideas about what numbers are used for and relationships among number, quantity, measurement, and so on. However, most research mathematicians still consider mastery of the manual algorithms to be a necessary foundation for the study of algebra and computer science. This controversy was central to the "Math Wars" over California's primary school curriculum in the 1990s, and continues today.
Many mathematics texts for K-12 instruction were developed, funded by grants from the United States National Science Foundation based on standards created by the NCTM and given high ratings by United States Department of Education, though condemned by many mathematicians. Some widely adopted texts such as TERC were based on the spirit of research papers which found that instruction of basic arithmetic was harmful to mathematical understanding. Rather than teaching any traditional method of arithmetic, teachers are instructed to instead guide students to invent their own (some critics claim inefficient) methods, instead using such techniques as skip counting, and the heavy use of manipulatives, scissors and paste, and even singing rather than multiplication tables or long division. Although such texts were designed to be a complete curricula, in the face of intense protest and criticism, many districts have chosen to circumvent the intent of such radical approaches by supplementing with traditional texts. Other districts have since adopted traditional mathematics texts and discarded such reform-based approaches as misguided failures.

Related topics



  • Cunnington, Susan. The story of arithmetic, a short history of its origin and development. Swan Sonnenschein, London, 1904.
  • Dickson, Leonard Eugene. History of the theory of numbers. Three volumes. Reprints: Carnegie Institute of Washington, Washington, 1932. Chelsea, New York, 1952, 1966.
  • Leonhard Euler, Elements of Algebra Tarquin Press, 2007
  • Fine, Henry Burchard (1858-1928). The number system of algebra treated theoretically and historically. Leach, Shewell & Sanborn, Boston, 1891.
  • Karpinski, Louis Charles (1878-1956). The history of arithmetic. Rand McNally, Chicago, 1925. Reprint: Russell & Russell, New York, 1965.
  • Ore, Øystein. Number theory and its history. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1948.
  • Weil, Andre. Number theory: an approach through history. Birkhauser, Boston, 1984. Reviewed: Math. Rev. 85c:01004.
arithmetic in Arabic: حساب
arithmetic in Bengali: পাটীগণিত
arithmetic in Belarusian: Арыфметыка
arithmetic in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Арытмэтыка
arithmetic in Breton: Aritmetik
arithmetic in Bulgarian: Аритметика
arithmetic in Catalan: Aritmètica
arithmetic in Czech: Aritmetika
arithmetic in Danish: Aritmetik
arithmetic in German: Arithmetik
arithmetic in Estonian: Aritmeetika
arithmetic in Spanish: Aritmética
arithmetic in Esperanto: Aritmetiko
arithmetic in Basque: Aritmetika
arithmetic in Persian: حساب
arithmetic in French: Arithmétique
arithmetic in Scottish Gaelic: Àireamhachd
arithmetic in Galician: Aritmética
arithmetic in Korean: 산술
arithmetic in Hindi: अंकगणित
arithmetic in Croatian: Aritmetika
arithmetic in Ido: Aritmetiko
arithmetic in Indonesian: Aritmatika
arithmetic in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Arithmetica
arithmetic in Icelandic: Talnareikningur
arithmetic in Italian: Aritmetica
arithmetic in Hebrew: אריתמטיקה
arithmetic in Javanese: Ilmu hitung
arithmetic in Georgian: არითმეტიკა
arithmetic in Swahili (macrolanguage): Hesabu
arithmetic in Latin: Arithmetica
arithmetic in Lithuanian: Aritmetika
arithmetic in Lojban: sapme'ocmaci
arithmetic in Macedonian: Аритметика
arithmetic in Marathi: अंकगणित
arithmetic in Malay (macrolanguage): Aritmetik
arithmetic in Dutch: Rekenen
arithmetic in Japanese: 算術
arithmetic in Norwegian: Aritmetikk
arithmetic in Norwegian Nynorsk: Aritmetikk
arithmetic in Novial: Aritmetike
arithmetic in Polish: Arytmetyka
arithmetic in Portuguese: Aritmética
arithmetic in Romanian: Aritmetică
arithmetic in Quechua: Yupa hap'ichiy
arithmetic in Russian: Арифметика
arithmetic in Sardinian: Aritmètica
arithmetic in Simple English: Arithmetic
arithmetic in Slovak: Aritmetika
arithmetic in Slovenian: Aritmetika
arithmetic in Serbian: Аритметика
arithmetic in Finnish: Aritmetiikka
arithmetic in Swedish: Aritmetik
arithmetic in Tagalog: Aritmetika
arithmetic in Tamil: எண்கணிதம்
arithmetic in Thai: เลขคณิต
arithmetic in Turkish: Aritmetik
arithmetic in Ukrainian: Арифметика
arithmetic in Urdu: حساب
arithmetic in Võro: Arvokunst
arithmetic in Yiddish: חשבון
arithmetic in Chinese: 算术

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Boolean algebra, Euclidean geometry, Fourier analysis, Lagrangian function, algebra, algebraic geometry, analysis, analytic geometry, associative algebra, binary arithmetic, calculation, calculus, ciphering, circle geometry, descriptive geometry, differential calculus, division algebra, equivalent algebras, estimation, figuring, game theory, geodesy, geometry, graphic algebra, group theory, higher algebra, higher arithmetic, hyperbolic geometry, infinitesimal calculus, integral calculus, intuitional geometry, invariant subalgebra, inverse geometry, line geometry, linear algebra, mathematical physics, matrix algebra, metageometry, modular arithmetic, n-tuple linear algebra, natural geometry, nilpotent algebra, number theory, plane trigonometry, political arithmetic, projective geometry, proper subalgebra, quaternian algebra, reckoning, reducible algebra, set theory, simple algebra, solid geometry, speculative geometry, spherical trigonometry, statistics, subalgebra, systems analysis, topology, trig, trigonometry, universal algebra, universal geometry, vector algebra, zero algebra
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