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A mathematical expression like

1-2

is pronounced one minus two. "Minus" here refers to the mathematical arithmetic operation of subtraction. The following expression

-1-2

seems sometimes to be pronounced minus one minus two and other times as negative one minus two. The term in front of the first number does not refer to a mathematical operation but rather to a sign.

Are both correct or only one version? In short my question is: How is a negative number such as "-1" pronounced correctly in mathematics?

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1 Answer 1

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Both are correct. One may make you sound old, foreign, or educated/uneducated depending where you say it.

Which is more common seems cultural. It varies by country, age of the speaker (how mathematics is taught has changed), level of education, and what the number represents.

I'm in the USA. I've mostly heard negative one from people my age (20s to 50s now). Older people (60s and older) may say minus. minus is more common for people I know that dropped out of high school (simpler word? not sure why).

One common exception is temperatures--it's common to hear that it's minus ten outside, or that the temperature is "ten below" ("ten degrees below zero degrees").

In other countries (England), I've usually heard minus one. I've also seen

1-2

called one less two, so I wouldn't be surprised if they called -1 "less one". But I don't really know.

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    Not "less one". "minus one" (general) "negative one" (slightly pedantic maths teacher).
    – James K
    May 8 at 17:48
  • The reason why pedantic maths teachers (and high school students that they taught) prefer "negative" is "minus" has Latinate roots meaning "with subtraction of" and so shouldn't be used as an attribute (like an adjective)
    – James K
    May 8 at 17:52
  • Ah, the etymological fallacy again. Don't pedants just love that!
    – Colin Fine
    May 8 at 17:54

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