The term "arithmetic operations" from basic grammar school mathematics is highly formal and technical in my ears. In my native Danish language it translates into:

The arithmetic operations = De aritmetiske operationer

I show this to tell that we do have the same technical wording in our language. But we also have another and much more nontechnical term to use in Danish for kids and colloquial conversations (so frequently used that it is not a colloquial term anymore but formally recognized):

De fire regnearter = The four calculation kinds / types --(direct translation)

See the Danish wiki. Before I was even old enough to understand words like "arithmetics" or "(mathematical) operations", I could easily understand and learn the four calculations kinds.

Also, the term "arithmetic operations" seems to be broader than the latter. Wikipedia describes it as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division as well as powers and roots. A term like "the four calculation kinds" clearly only covers the first four and thus the headline for math taught to small children at the early school stages.

I am therefore wondering: Is there similar informal term in English? An alternative to "arithmetic operations" that refers to those four basic means of calculation? What term do English speakers use when talking with kids in 1st-year grammar school?

  • 2
    I know you don't want the word "operation", but the phrase I was taught in early primary school was "the four operations". The word "operation" is indeed much more broad, but "the four operations" is very specifically addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 21:38
  • In various curriculum documents these are called numeracy skills.
    – Livrecache
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 23:31

1 Answer 1


The colloquial word that encompasses addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in the U.S. is arithmetic. Depending on context, "arithmetic" may encompass either the mechanics of the operations of arithmetic alone or the mechanics of those operations and their proper use.

There is an old American folk saying about elementary education: it covers the three R's, namely reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. An excited mother does not say I'm so proud of Sally: she got an A in arithmetic operations.

The term "arithmetic operations" is likely to arise in professional parlance such as a description of a curriculum or in discussions of mathematics, where precision of vocabulary is frequently necessary and always esteemed. "Arithmetic operations" is professional vocabulary, not the vocabulary any sensible teacher would use with a seven year old.

  • Thank you for the answer. I get that arithmetic operations is professional vocabulary, so what would you say to a 1st-grader kid instead? Is there an English word or phrase that is usually used to kids, or do you simply reformulate?
    – Steeven
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 19:12
  • 1
    Perhaps my answer was too involved. The colloquial word far most common today is "arithmetic." Used as a noun, it has two colloquial meanings: (1) the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and (2) the use of those four operations to answer questions involving rational numbers. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:41

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