Do you know these 50 math terms?
Math is defined as "the science of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions and of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations."
While math has baffled and terrified generations of schoolchildren who struggled to wrap their heads around its complexities, those who love math find magic in its secrets. Math is everywhere—in every bridge or building ever constructed, every army ever organized, every medicine ever discovered. Without math, there would be no money, no commerce, no cars, no computers, no science, no music.
Math is as old as humanity. There's evidence that early humans etched notches in bones as primitive forms of tabulation. Basic arithmetic and geometry laid the foundations for algebra and later, for advanced calculus. Math was fundamental to the structures and societies of all the great civilizations, including the early Babylonian, Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Mesopotamian, Roman, Myan, Indian, and Islamic empires. With each great leap forward in technology, exploration, and science came advancements in mathematics—and like everything else, math has its own language. To do the math, you have to understand the words that represent the concepts.
Everyone knows that to add is to find the sum of numbers and that to subtract is to take away. People of a certain age remember being drilled on times tables and learning for the first time the strange new shapes and images associated with fractions and long division. Those, however, are just the building blocks. Advanced and even intermediate mathematics are described in a vocabulary that's sacred to mathletes but alien to outsiders.
Stacker has compiled a list of key math terms from a variety of authoritative math communication sources, including 2020 data from the Khan Academy, Math Open Reference, and Wolfram Alpha. Although volumes could be and have been written about the concepts they represent, the basic definitions and applications are described below.
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Distribution is an algebraic term that defines the act of spreading terms out equally. Terms are variables or numbers joined by division and/or multiplication. They're distributed by multiplying terms inside of parenthesis with terms outside of the parenthesis.
A bell curve is a graph that reveals when data are evenly distributed. Bell curves show a small percentage of points on each of the graph's two tails and a larger percentage in the middle.
Two angles are complementary when they combine to form a right angle. A 50-degree angle and a 40-degree angle, for example, are complementary because they add up to 90 degrees.
Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz are credited with independently developing the field of calculus in the 17th century. There are two branches: Integral calculus determines whole factors through the summation of infinitely numerous smaller factors, and differential calculus is the calculation of rates of change.
Derivatives are models that are used to show rates of change. They can be geometrical, like the slope of a curve, or physical models, which are drawn out in mathematical terms comprising numbers, letters, and symbols.
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Along with derivatives, integrals are the fundamental objects of calculus. A shortcut method of adding slices to determine a whole, integrals can be used to find many central points, volumes, and areas.
A coefficient is a number—the constant—in a variable term in a mathematical expression. The University of Chicago gives the example of 3c + 8d, in which 3 and 8 are coefficients.
Pascal's triangle is a visual representation of coefficients arranged in a triangular pattern. It's named for French mathematician Blaise Pascal, but it was used and described by mathematicians in Persia, China, India, Italy, and Germany centuries before.
Conic sections are nondegenerate curves that are formed when a cone meets a plane. They can take the form of hyperbola, ellipses, parabolas, and circles.
Every mathematical product contains two or more numbers. Those numbers are called factors.
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