Plus and minus signs
For the symbol "±", see Plus-minus sign.
|Plus and minus signs|
|In Unicode||U+002B + PLUS SIGN (HTML + · +)
U+2212 − MINUS SIGN (HTML − · −)
|See also||U+00B1 ± PLUS-MINUS SIGN
U+2213 ∓ MINUS-OR-PLUS SIGN
U+2052 ⁒ COMMERCIAL MINUS SIGN
|Different from||U+002D - HYPHEN-MINUS|
The plus and minus signs, + and −, are mathematical symbols used to represent the notions of positive and negative as well as the operations of addition and subtraction (which correspond to sum and difference, respectively).
Their use has been extended to many other meanings, more or less analogous.
Plus and minus are Latin terms meaning "more" and "less", respectively.
The Egyptian hieroglyphic sign for addition, for example, resembled a pair of legs walking in the direction in which the text was written (Egyptian could be written either from right to left or left to right), with the reverse sign indicating subtraction:
Nicole Oresme's manuscripts from the 14th century show what may be one of the earliest uses of + as a sign for plus.
In early 15th century Europe, the letters "P" and "M" were generally used.
The symbols (P with overline, p̄, for più (more), i.e., plus, and M with overline, m̄, for meno (less), i.e., minus) appeared for the first time in Luca Pacioli's mathematics compendium, Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità, first printed and published in Venice in 1494.
The − may be derived from a tilde written over ⟨m⟩ when used to indicate subtraction; or it may come from a shorthand version of the letter ⟨m⟩ itself.
In his 1489 treatise, Johannes Widmann referred to the symbols − and + as minus and mer (Modern German mehr; "more"): "was − ist, das ist minus, und das + ist das mer".
They weren't used for addition and subtraction in the treatise, but were used to indicate surplus and deficit; their first use in their modern sense appears in a book by Henricus Grammateus in 1518.
Robert Recorde, the designer of the equals sign, introduced plus and minus to Britain in 1557 in The Whetstone of Witte: "There be other 2 signes in often use of which the first is made thus + and betokeneth more: the other is thus made – and betokeneth lesse."
"+" redirects here.
For other uses, see + (disambiguation).
This notation may be used when it is desired to emphasize the positiveness of a number, especially in contrast with the negative numbers (+5 versus −5).
The plus sign can also indicate many other operations, depending on the mathematical system under consideration.
It is though conventional to use the plus sign to only denote commutative operations.
For more, see § Other uses.
"−" redirects here.
The minus sign, −, has three main uses in mathematics:
- The subtraction operator: a binary operator to indicate the operation of subtraction, as in 5 − 3 = 2. Subtraction is the inverse of addition.
- The function whose value for any real or complex argument is the additive inverse of that argument. For example, if x = 3, then −x = −3, but if x = −3, then −x = +3. Similarly, −(−x) = x.
- A prefix of a numeric constant. When it is placed immediately before an unsigned numeral, the combination names a negative number, the additive inverse of the positive number that the numeral would otherwise name. In this usage, '−5' names a number the same way 'semicircle' names a geometric figure, with the caveat that 'semi' does not have a separate use as a function name.
In many contexts, it does not matter whether the second or the third of these usages is intended.
−5 is the same number either way.
Sometimes, it does make a difference꞉ the programming language APL uses a raised minus sign ¯, (Unicode U+00AF) as a prefix rather than a function so that the interpreter of APL has less work when taking ¯5 as the number −5 rather than inverting the constant 5 by means of the minus sign considered as denoting a function (item 2 above).
As described in the next section, some educators consider it important that elementary students realize that negative numbers are genuine entities that can be given names, and so use a raised minus in the name of a negative number.
Similarly, in the expression language used by Texas Instruments graphing calculators (at least the early models including the TI-81 and TI-82), a raised minus sign is used in negative numbers (e.g., 3 as the result of 2 − 5).
All three uses can be referred to as "minus" in everyday speech, though the binary operator is sometimes read as "take away".
In most English-speaking countries, −5 (for example) is normally referred to as "minus five", but in modern US usage, it is instead usually called "negative five"; here, "minus" may be used by speakers born before 1950, and is still popular in some contexts, but "negative" is usually taught as the only correct reading.
Further, a few textbooks in the United States encourage −x to be read as "the opposite of x" or "the additive inverse of x"—to avoid giving the impression that −x is necessarily negative (since x itself may already be negative)
In mathematics and most programming languages, the rules for the order of operations mean that −5 is equal to −25: Exponentiation binds more strongly than the unary minus, which binds more strongly than multiplication or division.
However, in some programming languages (Microsoft Excel in particular), unary operators bind strongest, so in those cases −5^2 is 25, but 0−5^2 is −25.
For more, see § Other uses below.
Use in elementary education
Some elementary teachers use raised plus and minus signs before numbers to show they are positive or negative numbers.
For example, subtracting −5 from 3 might be read as "positive three take away negative 5", and be shown as
- 3 − 5 becomes 3 + 5 = 8,
or even as
- 3 − 5 becomes 3 + 5 = 8.
Use as a qualifier
In grading systems (such as examination marks), the plus sign indicates a grade one level higher and the minus sign a grade lower.
For example, B− ("B minus") is one grade lower than B.
In some occasions, this is extended to two plus or minus signs (e.g., A++ being two grades higher than A).
Positive and negative are sometimes abbreviated as +ve and −ve.
For example, A+ means A-type blood with the Rh factor present, while B− means B-type blood with the Rh factor absent.
In music, augmented chords are symbolized with a plus sign, although this practice is not universal (as there are other methods for spelling those chords).
For example, "C+" is read "C augmented chord".
Sometimes the plus is written as a superscript.
Uses in computing
As well as the normal mathematical usage, plus and minus signs may be used for a number of other purposes in computing.
Plus and minus signs are often used in tree view on a computer screen—to show if a folder is collapsed or not.
In most programming languages, subtraction and negation are indicated with the ASCII hyphen-minus character, -.
In APL a raised minus sign (Unicode U+00AF) is used to denote a negative number, as in ¯3.
In C and some other computer programming languages, two plus signs indicate the increment operator and two minus signs a decrement; the position of the operator before or after the variable indicates whether the new or old value is read from it.
For example, if x equals 6, then y = x++ increments x to 7 but sets y to 6, whereas y = ++x would set both x and y to 7.
By extension, ++ is sometimes used in computing terminology to signify an improvement, as in the name of the language C++.
In regular expressions, + is often used to indicate "1 or more" in a pattern to be matched.
For example, x+ means "one or more of the letter x".
In chemistry, superscripted plus and minus signs are used to indicate an ion with a positive or negative charge of 1 (e.g., NH+ 4 ).
If the charge is greater than 1, a number indicating the charge is written before the sign (as in SO2− 4 ).
The Unicode character used for the tone letter (U+02D7) is different from the mathematical minus sign.
Combinations of the plus and minus signs are used to evaluate a move (+/−, +/=, =/+, −/+).
When writing phone numbers, a plus sign represents the keys required to dial out of a country, such as “00” when calling from the United States.
|- + −|
|hyphen-minus, plus, minus signs compared|
|Read||Character||Unicode||ASCII||in URL||HTML notations|
|Minus||−||U+2212||%E2%88%92||− − −|
|Small Hyphen-minus||﹣||U+FE63||%EF%B9%A3||﹣ ﹣|
|Full-width Plus||＋||U+FF0B||%EF%BC%8B||＋ ＋|
|Full-width Hyphen-minus||－||U+FF0D||%EF%BC%8D||－ －|
It is usually shorter in length than the plus sign and often at a different height to the plus-sign's cross bar.
It can be used as a substitute for the true minus sign when the character set is limited to ASCII.
Most programming languages and other computer readable languages do this, since ASCII is generally available as a subset of most character encodings, while U+2212 is a Unicode feature only.
Also several other software programs usable for calculations don't accept the U+2212 minus.
For example pasting =3−2 into Excel or 3−2= into the Windows calculator won't work.
The true minus is not available on most keyboard layouts.
There is a commercial minus sign, ⁒, which is used in Germany and Poland.
The symbol ÷ is used to denote subtraction in Norway.
For detailed distinctions between minus signs and dashes, see Dash § Similar Unicode characters.
Alternative plus sign
See also: Up tack
A Jewish tradition that dates from at least the 19th century is to write plus using the symbol ﬩.
It is also used occasionally in books by religious authors, but most books for adults use the international symbol +.
The reason for this practice is that it avoids the writing of a symbol + that looks like a Christian cross.
Unicode has this symbol at position U+FB29 ﬩ HEBREW LETTER ALTERNATIVE PLUS SIGN.
- En dash, a dash that looks similar to the subtraction symbol but is used for different purposes
- Table of mathematical symbols
References and footnotes
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plus and minus signs.