In many physics and mathematics texts equations are introduced using the verb 'to read'. For example, in an article on electrodynamics you might find one of these three phrases:

  1. Maxwell's equations read [equations].
  2. Maxwell's equations read as [equations].
  3. Maxwell's equations read as follows: [equations].

To me (not a native speaker), the first version looks perfectly fine, as does the third. The second one, however, strikes me as incorrect (possibly a literal translation of a similar expression in another language?).

This is in line with the definitions I found in various dictionaries (see meaning 7 in the Oxford dictionary or meaning 6 in the Collins dictionary), although their examples generally concern signs or documents rather than equations.

This does not definitively confirm my suspicion, of course, so I would like to know whether the second version ('read(s) as') is just as correct as the others, unidiomatic or completely wrong.

  • I'm not familiar with this "equation + read" usage - but if what you say is true, this is Off Topic domain-specific terminology / syntax. Either ask on SO Maths or stick with "normal" English and write Maxwell's equations are [whatever]. Mar 22, 2021 at 18:00
  • I’m voting to close this question because it's about domain-specific terminology / syntax Mar 22, 2021 at 18:01
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    There will be lots of false positives, but have a look at the written instances of the sequence Maxwell's equations read in this NGram. As you'll see, as is often included (note that follows is entirely "optional"). Mar 22, 2021 at 18:05
  • @FumbleFingers Fair point, I'll try my luck on the maths site then! I was just wondering whether the version with 'as' could be dismissed for reasons not specific to maths (I have never seen 'the sign reads as ...'). Fwiw, the simple 'reads' seems to be more common, but usage stats alone are not too significant here, as many science texts are written by non-native speakers. Mar 24, 2021 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


Mathematician here.

I regularly see and prefer the first. The third is correct but unnecessarily wordy. I agree that the second seems wrong.

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    This is the advantage of SO being a "family" of sites! Mathematicians, quantum physicists, kick-ass software gurus - you guys are always either already here or you'll be "just around the corner" on another SO site! Anyway, I'm not particularly familiar with the relevant usages, but I'm more than happy to upvote your confirmation of my gut feel / guess. Mar 25, 2021 at 12:00

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