Natural number

related topics
{math, number, function}
{theory, work, human}
{language, word, form}
{country, population, people}
{city, large, area}
{mi², represent, 1st}

In mathematics, natural numbers are the ordinary counting numbers 1, 2, 3, ... (sometimes zero is also included). Since the development of set theory by Georg Cantor, it has become customary to view such numbers as a set. There are two conventions for the set of natural numbers: it is either the set of positive integers {1, 2, 3, ...} according to the traditional definition; or the set of non-negative integers {0, 1, 2, ...} according to a definition first appearing in the 19th century.

Natural numbers have two main purposes: counting ("there are 6 coins on the table") and ordering ("this is the 3rd largest city in the country"). These purposes are related to the linguistic notions of cardinal and ordinal numbers, respectively. (See English numerals.) A more recent notion is that of a nominal number, which is used only for naming.

Properties of the natural numbers related to divisibility, such as the distribution of prime numbers, are studied in number theory. Problems concerning counting and ordering, such as partition enumeration, are studied in combinatorics.


History of natural numbers and the status of zero

The natural numbers had their origins in the words used to count things, beginning with the number 1.[1]

The first major advance in abstraction was the use of numerals to represent numbers. This allowed systems to be developed for recording large numbers. The ancient Egyptians developed a powerful system of numerals with distinct hieroglyphs for 1, 10, and all the powers of 10 up to one million. A stone carving from Karnak, dating from around 1500 BC and now at the Louvre in Paris, depicts 276 as 2 hundreds, 7 tens, and 6 ones; and similarly for the number 4,622. The Babylonians had a place-value system based essentially on the numerals for 1 and 10.

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