|0 1 →|
Divisors All other numbers
|Ordinal Zeroth, noughth|
|Cardinal 0, zero, "oh" (/ˈoʊ/), nought, naught, nil|
0 (zero; BrE: /ˈzɪərəʊ/ or AmE: /ˈziːroʊ/) is both a number and the numerical digit used to represent that number in numerals. The number 0 fulfills a central role in mathematics as the additive identity of the integers, real numbers, and many other algebraic structures. As a digit, 0 is used as a placeholder in place value systems. Names for the number 0 in English include zero, nought or (US) naught (/ˈnɔːt/), nil, or—in contexts where at least one adjacent digit distinguishes it from the letter "O"—oh or o (/ˈoʊ/). Informal or slang terms for zero include zilch and zip. Ought and aught (/ˈɔːt/), as well as cipher, have also been used historically.
- Ancient Near East
- Pre Columbian Americas
- Classical antiquity
- India and Southeast Asia
- Transmission to Islamic culture
- Transmission to Europe
- Elementary algebra
- Other branches of mathematics
- Related mathematical terms
- Computer science
- Other fields
- Symbols and representations
- Year label
The word zero came into the English language via French zéro from Italian zero, Italian contraction of Venetian zevero form of 'Italian zefiro via ṣafira or ṣifr. In pre-Islamic time the word ṣifr (Arabic صفر) had the meaning 'empty'. Sifr evolved to mean zero when it was used to translate śūnya (Sanskrit: शून्य) from India. The first known English use of zero was in 1598.
The Italian mathematician Fibonacci (c.1170–1250), who grew up in North Africa and is credited with introducing the decimal system to Europe, used the term zephyrum. This became zefiro in Italian, and was then contracted to zero in Venetian. The Italian word zefiro was already in existence (meaning "west wind" from Latin and Greek zephyrus) and may have influenced the spelling when transcribing Arabic ṣifr.
There are different words used for the number or concept of zero depending on the context. For the simple notion of lacking, the words nothing and none are often used. Sometimes the words nought, naught and aught are used. Several sports have specific words for zero, such as nil in football, love in tennis and a duck in cricket. It is often called oh in the context of telephone numbers. Slang words for zero include zip, zilch, nada, and scratch. Duck egg and goose egg are also slang for zero.
Ancient Near East
Ancient Egyptian numerals were base 10. They used hieroglyphs for the digits and were not positional. By 1740 BC, the Egyptians had a symbol for zero in accounting texts. The symbol nfr, meaning beautiful, was also used to indicate the base level in drawings of tombs and pyramids and distances were measured relative to the base line as being above or below this line.
By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonian mathematics had a sophisticated sexagesimal positional numeral system. The lack of a positional value (or zero) was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals. By 300 BC, a punctuation symbol (two slanted wedges) was co-opted as a placeholder in the same Babylonian system. In a tablet unearthed at Kish (dating from about 700 BC), the scribe Bêl-bân-aplu wrote his zeros with three hooks, rather than two slanted wedges.
The Babylonian placeholder was not a true zero because it was not used alone. Nor was it used at the end of a number. Thus numbers like 2 and 120 (2×60), 3 and 180 (3×60), 4 and 240 (4×60), looked the same because the larger numbers lacked a final sexagesimal placeholder. Only context could differentiate them.
The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar developed in south-central Mexico and Central America required the use of zero as a place-holder within its vigesimal (base-20) positional numeral system. Many different glyphs, including this partial quatrefoil——were used as a zero symbol for these Long Count dates, the earliest of which (on Stela 2 at Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas) has a date of 36 BC.
Since the eight earliest Long Count dates appear outside the Maya homeland, it is generally believed that the use of zero in the Americas predated the Maya and was possibly the invention of the Olmecs. Many of the earliest Long Count dates were found within the Olmec heartland, although the Olmec civilization ended by the 4th century BC, several centuries before the earliest known Long Count dates.
Although zero became an integral part of Maya numerals, with a different, empty tortoise-like "shell shape" used for many depictions of the "zero" numeral, it is assumed to have not influenced Old World numeral systems.
Quipu, a knotted cord device, used in the Inca Empire and its predecessor societies in the Andean region to record accounting and other digital data, is encoded in a base ten positional system. Zero is represented by the absence of a knot in the appropriate position.
The ancient Greeks did not have a name for zero and did not use a placeholder.
They seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number. They asked themselves, "How can nothing be something?", leading to philosophical and, by the medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum. The paradoxes of Zeno of Elea depend in large part on the uncertain interpretation of zero.
By 130 AD, Ptolemy, influenced by Hipparchus and the Babylonians, was using a symbol for zero (a small circle with a long overbar) in his work on mathematical astronomy called the Syntaxis Mathematica, also known as the Almagest. The way in which it is used can be seen in his table of chords in that book. Ptolemy's zero was used within a sexagesimal numeral system otherwise using alphabetic Greek numerals. Because it was used alone, not just as a placeholder, this Hellenistic zero was perhaps the first documented use of a number zero in the Old World. However, the positions were usually limited to the fractional part of a number (called minutes, seconds, thirds, fourths, etc.)—they were not used for the integral part of a number. In later Byzantine manuscripts of Ptolemy's Almagest, the Hellenistic zero had morphed into the Greek letter omicron (otherwise meaning 70).
Another zero was used in tables alongside Roman numerals by 525 (first known use by Dionysius Exiguus), but as a word, nulla meaning "nothing", not as a symbol. When division produced zero as a remainder, nihil, also meaning "nothing", was used. These medieval zeros were used by all future medieval calculators of Easter. The initial "N" was used as a zero symbol in a table of Roman numerals by Bede or his colleagues around 725.
The Sunzi Suanjing, of unknown date but estimated to be dated from the 1st to 5th centuries CE, and Japanese records dated from the eighteenth century, describe how the c. 4th century BCE Chinese counting rods system enables one to perform decimal calculations. According to A History of Mathematics, the rods "gave the decimal representation of a number, with an empty space denoting zero." The counting rod system is considered a positional notation system.
In AD 690, Empress Wu promulgated Zetian characters, one of which was "〇". The word is now used as a synonym for the number zero.
Zero was not treated as a number at that time, but as a "vacant position". Ch'in Chiu-shao's 1247 Mathematical Treatise in Nine Sections is the oldest surviving Chinese mathematical text using a round symbol for zero. Chinese authors had been familiar with the idea of negative numbers by the Han Dynasty (2nd century AD), as seen in the The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art, much earlier than the fifteenth century when they became well established in Europe.
India and Southeast Asia
The concept of zero as a digit in the decimal place value notation was developed in India, presumably as early as during the Gupta period (c. 5th century), with the oldest unambiguous evidence dating to the 7th century.
The Indian scholar Pingala (c. 200 BC) used binary numbers in the form of short and long syllables (the latter equal in length to two short syllables), a notation similar to Morse code. Pingala used the Sanskrit word śūnya explicitly to refer to zero.
The earliest text to use a decimal place-value system, including a zero, is the Lokavibhāga, a Jain text surviving in a medieval Sanskrit translation of the Prakrit original, which is internally dated to AD 458 (Saka era 380). In this text, śūnya ("void, empty") is also used to refer to zero.
The origin of the modern decimal-based place value notation can be traced to the Aryabhatiya (c. 500), which states sthānāt sthānaṁ daśaguṇaṁ syāt "from place to place each is ten times the preceding."
The rules governing the use of zero appeared for the first time in the Brahmasputha Siddhanta (7th century). This work considers not only zero, but negative numbers, and the algebraic rules for the elementary operations of arithmetic with such numbers. In some instances, his rules differ from the modern standard, specifically the definition of the value of zero divided by zero as zero.
There are numerous copper plate inscriptions, with the same small o in them, some of them possibly dated to the 6th century, but their date or authenticity may be open to doubt.
A stone tablet found in the ruins of a temple near Sambor on the Mekong, Kratié Province, Cambodia, includes the inscription of "605" in Khmer numerals (a set of numeral glyphs of the Hindu numerals family). The number is the year of the inscription in the Saka era, corresponding to a date of AD 683.
The first known use of special glyphs for the decimal digits that includes the indubitable appearance of a symbol for the digit zero, a small circle, appears on a stone inscription found at the Chaturbhuja Temple at Gwalior in India, dated 876.
Transmission to Islamic culture
The Arabic-language inheritance of science was largely Greek, followed by Hindu influences. In 773, at Al-Mansur's behest, translations were made of many ancient treatises including Greek, Roman, Indian, and others.
In AD 813, astronomical tables were prepared by a Persian mathematician, Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, using Hindu numerals; and about 825, he published a book synthesizing Greek and Hindu knowledge and also contained his own contribution to mathematics including an explanation of the use of zero. This book was later translated into Latin in the 12th century under the title Algoritmi de numero Indorum. This title means "al-Khwarizmi on the Numerals of the Indians". The word "Algoritmi" was the translator's Latinization of Al-Khwarizmi's name, and the word "Algorithm" or "Algorism" started meaning any arithmetic based on decimals.
Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Khwarizmi, in 976, stated that if no number appears in the place of tens in a calculation, a little circle should be used "to keep the rows". This circle was called ṣifr.
Transmission to Europe
The Hindu–Arabic numeral system (base 10) reached Europe in the 11th century, via the Iberian Peninsula through Spanish Muslims, the Moors, together with knowledge of astronomy and instruments like the astrolabe, first imported by Gerbert of Aurillac. For this reason, the numerals came to be known in Europe as "Arabic numerals". The Italian mathematician Fibonacci or Leonardo of Pisa was instrumental in bringing the system into European mathematics in 1202, stating:
After my father's appointment by his homeland as state official in the customs house of Bugia for the Pisan merchants who thronged to it, he took charge; and in view of its future usefulness and convenience, had me in my boyhood come to him and there wanted me to devote myself to and be instructed in the study of calculation for some days. There, following my introduction, as a consequence of marvelous instruction in the art, to the nine digits of the Hindus, the knowledge of the art very much appealed to me before all others, and for it I realized that all its aspects were studied in Egypt, Syria, Greece, Sicily, and Provence, with their varying methods; and at these places thereafter, while on business. I pursued my study in depth and learned the give-and-take of disputation. But all this even, and the algorism, as well as the art of Pythagoras, I considered as almost a mistake in respect to the method of the Hindus (Modus Indorum). Therefore, embracing more stringently that method of the Hindus, and taking stricter pains in its study, while adding certain things from my own understanding and inserting also certain things from the niceties of Euclid's geometric art. I have striven to compose this book in its entirety as understandably as I could, dividing it into fifteen chapters. Almost everything which I have introduced I have displayed with exact proof, in order that those further seeking this knowledge, with its pre-eminent method, might be instructed, and further, in order that the Latin people might not be discovered to be without it, as they have been up to now. If I have perchance omitted anything more or less proper or necessary, I beg indulgence, since there is no one who is blameless and utterly provident in all things. The nine Indian figures are: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. With these nine figures, and with the sign 0 ... any number may be written.
Here Leonardo of Pisa uses the phrase "sign 0", indicating it is like a sign to do operations like addition or multiplication. From the 13th century, manuals on calculation (adding, multiplying, extracting roots, etc.) became common in Europe where they were called algorismus after the Persian mathematician al-Khwārizmī. The most popular was written by Johannes de Sacrobosco, about 1235 and was one of the earliest scientific books to be printed in 1488. Until the late 15th century, Hindu–Arabic numerals seem to have predominated among mathematicians, while merchants preferred to use the Roman numerals. In the 16th century, they became commonly used in Europe.
0 is the integer immediately preceding 1. Zero is an even number, because it is divisible by 2 with no remainder. 0 is neither positive nor negative. By most definitions 0 is a natural number, and then the only natural number not to be positive. Zero is a number which quantifies a count or an amount of null size. In most cultures, 0 was identified before the idea of negative things, or quantities less than zero, was accepted.
The value, or number, zero is not the same as the digit zero, used in numeral systems using positional notation. Successive positions of digits have higher weights, so inside a numeral the digit zero is used to skip a position and give appropriate weights to the preceding and following digits. A zero digit is not always necessary in a positional number system, for example, in the number 02. In some instances, a leading zero may be used to distinguish a number.
The number 0 is the smallest non-negative integer. The natural number following 0 is 1 and no natural number precedes 0. The number 0 may or may not be considered a natural number, but it is a whole number and hence a rational number and a real number (as well as an algebraic number and a complex number).
The number 0 is neither positive nor negative and is usually displayed as the central number in a number line. It is neither a prime number nor a composite number. It cannot be prime because it has an infinite number of factors, and cannot be composite because it cannot be expressed as a product of prime numbers (0 must always be one of the factors). Zero is, however, even (as well as being a multiple of any other integer, rational, or real number).
The following are some basic (elementary) rules for dealing with the number 0. These rules apply for any real or complex number x, unless otherwise stated.
The expression 0⁄0, which may be obtained in an attempt to determine the limit of an expression of the form f(x)⁄g(x) as a result of applying the lim operator independently to both operands of the fraction, is a so-called "indeterminate form". That does not simply mean that the limit sought is necessarily undefined; rather, it means that the limit of f(x)⁄g(x), if it exists, must be found by another method, such as l'Hôpital's rule.
The sum of 0 numbers (the empty sum) is 0, and the product of 0 numbers (the empty product) is 1. The factorial 0! evaluates to 1.
Other branches of mathematics
Related mathematical terms
The value zero plays a special role for many physical quantities. For some quantities, the zero level is naturally distinguished from all other levels, whereas for others it is more or less arbitrarily chosen. For example, for an absolute temperature (as measured in kelvins) zero is the lowest possible value (negative temperatures are defined, but negative-temperature systems are not actually colder). This is in contrast to for example temperatures on the Celsius scale, where zero is arbitrarily defined to be at the freezing point of water. Measuring sound intensity in decibels or phons, the zero level is arbitrarily set at a reference value—for example, at a value for the threshold of hearing. In physics, the zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may possess and is the energy of the ground state of the system.
Zero has been proposed as the atomic number of the theoretical element tetraneutron. It has been shown that a cluster of four neutrons may be stable enough to be considered an atom in its own right. This would create an element with no protons and no charge on its nucleus.
As early as 1926, Andreas von Antropoff coined the term neutronium for a conjectured form of matter made up of neutrons with no protons, which he placed as the chemical element of atomic number zero at the head of his new version of the periodic table. It was subsequently placed as a noble gas in the middle of several spiral representations of the periodic system for classifying the chemical elements.
The most common practice throughout human history has been to start counting at one, and this is the practice in early classic computer science programming languages such as Fortran and COBOL. However, in the late 1950s LISP introduced zero-based numbering for arrays while Algol 58 introduced completely flexible basing for array subscripts (allowing any positive, negative, or zero integer as base for array subscripts), and most subsequent programming languages adopted one or other of these positions. For example, the elements of an array are numbered starting from 0 in C, so that for an array of n items the sequence of array indices runs from 0 to n−1. This permits an array element's location to be calculated by adding the index directly to address of the array, whereas 1 based languages precalculate the array's base address to be the position one element before the first.
There can be confusion between 0 and 1 based indexing, for example Java's JDBC indexes parameters from 1 although Java itself uses 0-based indexing.
In databases, it is possible for a field not to have a value. It is then said to have a null value. For numeric fields it is not the value zero. For text fields this is not blank nor the empty string. The presence of null values leads to three-valued logic. No longer is a condition either true or false, but it can be undetermined. Any computation including a null value delivers a null result. Asking for all records with value 0 or value not equal 0 will not yield all records, since the records with value null are excluded.
A null pointer is a pointer in a computer program that does not point to any object or function. In C, the integer constant 0 is converted into the null pointer at compile time when it appears in a pointer context, and so 0 is a standard way to refer to the null pointer in code. However, the internal representation of the null pointer may be any bit pattern (possibly different values for different data types).
In mathematics −0 = +0 = 0; both −0 and +0 represent exactly the same number, i.e., there is no "negative zero" distinct from zero. In some signed number representations (but not the two's complement representation used to represent integers in most computers today) and most floating point number representations, zero has two distinct representations, one grouping it with the positive numbers and one with the negatives; this latter representation is known as negative zero.
In binary, 0 represents the value for "off", which means no electricity flow.
Zero is the value of false in many programming languages.
In Unix time, zero is midnight before the first of January 1970. This is known as the Unix epoch.
Symbols and representations
The modern numerical digit 0 is usually written as a circle or ellipse. Traditionally, many print typefaces made the capital letter O more rounded than the narrower, elliptical digit 0. Typewriters originally made no distinction in shape between O and 0; some models did not even have a separate key for the digit 0. The distinction came into prominence on modern character displays.
A slashed zero can be used to distinguish the number from the letter. The digit 0 with a dot in the center seems to have originated as an option on IBM 3270 displays and has continued with some modern computer typefaces such as Andalé Mono, and in some airline reservation systems. One variation uses a short vertical bar instead of the dot. Some fonts designed for use with computers made one of the capital-O–digit-0 pair more rounded and the other more angular (closer to a rectangle). A further distinction is made in falsification-hindering typeface as used on German car number plates by slitting open the digit 0 on the upper right side. Sometimes the digit 0 is used either exclusively, or not at all, to avoid confusion altogether.
In the BC calendar era, the year 1 BC is the first year before AD 1; there is not a year zero. By contrast, in astronomical year numbering, the year 1 BC is numbered 0, the year 2 BC is numbered −1, and so on.