9

A shorthand English word for 3 multiplied by 4 is:

3 times 4

I am aware that this comes from spoken language as in "we have 3 four times", a version I know from my native language as well. I would like to investigate this word rather than the more formal multiplied by. I am curious as to how the word times may be conjugated in tenses and used in other types of sentence constructions while still keeping it's mathematical meaning.

Can I for example say sentences like the following?

  • 3 was timed with 4.
  • I will time 3 and 4.
  • The times-symbol (or time-symbol or timing-symbol?) is a dot.
  • 4
    You might like to note that the full OED defines the word times as a verb - trans. Math. colloq. To multiply (a number). It's regularly conjugated, so your first example should actually be 3 was timesed by 4 Note that to times and related derived forms are also used extensively in Building & Surveying contexts, where I don't think that "colloquial" tag applies so strongly, if at all. – FumbleFingers Jun 20 '17 at 13:27
  • 4
    Where I grew up, we said 3 times 4 a lot more than we said 3 multiplied by 4. We also would have said I will times 3 by 4. Even more bizarre is that we also said 3 was times-ed by 4. We treated times as though it was a verb in its own and conjugated it as such. I can't claim that this usage is grammatically correct but that was how we spoke colloquially. – Phil14 Jun 20 '17 at 13:43
  • 3
    Canadian here. Using "times" as a verb here is quite rare and very colloquial. It is very common to hear "three times three is nine" but the word "multiply" (or its derivatives) is used in other contexts, e.g. "What happens if you multiply a number by zero?". – Jim MacKenzie Jun 20 '17 at 14:43
  • 2
    My upper-Midwest American experience accords with @JimMacKenzie's—I would never say timesed or will times, only multiplied or will multiply, even though three times four is perfectly fine. – 1006a Jun 21 '17 at 1:21
6

Realistically, a native English speaker will treat the verb as if it were times.

3 was timesed with 4.

I will times 3 and 4.

What's happening here is that the word "times" is not really a verb. "Times" means "instances of", as in

I rang the doorbell three times.

In the sentence

3 times 4 is 12.

The subject is "3 times 4", that is, 3 instances of 4. "3 times 4" looks like a sentence, with 3 as the subject, 4 as the object, and "times" as the third-person singular of "time" (and 3 construed as a singular), but that was not originally what it was.

Of course, that would mean we should be saying "1 time 4" and we don't. Ah well, if English were consistent, "fish" would be spelled "ghoti".

  • 4
    Note that the first two sentences here may be spoken by children still finding their way around the language, but not by adults. – Luke Sawczak Jun 20 '17 at 17:42
  • @LukeS - I agree. I think this answer might be more accurate if it began with Hypothetically... (as opposed to Realistically...) – J.R. Jun 20 '17 at 20:50
  • 2
    @LukeSawczak -- I originally had a paragraph to exactly that effect, but I edited it out. Perhaps I should put it back. – Malvolio Jun 20 '17 at 22:20
  • @Malvolio 'Twould be my recommendation. :) – Luke Sawczak Jun 21 '17 at 2:52
  • 1
    I have to disagree with Luke and JR slightly. I've heard adults use "times" instead of "multiply" in the pattern described in this post. It's not that they don't know that "multiply" is the more correct term, they just either aren't especially well educated and/or well-spoken, or they simply aren't in the habit of bothering to use "multiply" in casual conversation. So Malvolio's answer is realistic (not just hypothetical), but it's just not quite idiomatic enough to not draw attention. – cjl750 Jun 21 '17 at 5:46
3

I don't understand what @Malvolio is advising. But I'm a math teacher and a native speaker of English. I would never say the expressions that he attributes to native speakers, and I would be amazed to hear a colleague say those expressions. I wouldn't say the expressions you ask about either.

With reference to multiplication, the word "times" is a noun, as it is in expressions like "I have seen that film two times." It has no important connection to the verb "to time," to measure the duration, as in "I thought you swam the lap very quickly, but I didn't time you." (I agree with Malvolio that seemingly the final s is a plural that would be inappropriate to the example "1 times 1". I never thought about it. Perhaps math people find it less distracting to treat the word as always plural, disregarding whether 0, 1/2, i, and each other number should be treated as singular or plural. I suppose you could as well ask why 3x4 is 12, rather than are 12. Whatever the reason, the word times in this sense always ends in s.)

So I would also say all of these things:

  • Three times four is twelve.

  • Three was multiplied by four.

  • I will multiply three and four.

  • The times symbol [not the time-symbol or timing-symbol] is a dot.

  • The multiplication symbol is a dot.

  • The times symbol is not a dot. It is a rotationally symmetric saltire, resembling an x: ×. The multiplication symbol is, arguably, a dot. – Malvolio Jun 20 '17 at 22:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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