# Natural number

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In mathematics, the **natural numbers** (sometimes called the **whole numbers**)^{[1]}^{[2]}^{[3]}^{[4]} are those used for counting (as in "there are *six* coins on the table") and ordering (as in "this is the *third* largest city in the country"). In common language, these purposes are distinguished by the use of cardinal and ordinal numbers, respectively. A third use of natural numbers is as nominal numbers, such as the model number of a product, where the “natural number” is used only for naming (as distinct from a serial number where the order properties of the natural numbers distinguish later uses from earlier uses) and generally lacks any meaning of *number* as used in mathematics but rather just shares the character set.

The natural numbers are a basis from which all other numbers may be built by extension: the integers, the rational numbers, the real numbers, the complex numbers, the hyperreal numbers, the nonstandard integers, and so on.^{[5]}^{[6]} Thereby the natural numbers are canonically embedded (identification) in the other number systems.

Properties of the natural numbers, such as divisibility and the distribution of prime numbers, are studied in number theory. Problems concerning counting and ordering, such as partitioning and enumerations, are studied in combinatorics.

There is no universal agreement about whether to include zero in the set of natural numbers. Some authors begin the natural numbers with 0, corresponding to the **non-negative integers** 0, 1, 2, 3, ..., whereas others start with 1, corresponding to the **positive integers** 1, 2, 3, ....^{[7]}^{[8]}^{[9]}^{[10]} This distinction is of no fundamental concern for the natural numbers (even when viewed via additional axioms as semigroup with respect to addition and monoid for multiplication). Including the number 0, just supplies an identity element for the former (binary) operation to achieve a monoid structure for both, and a (trivial) zero divisor for the multiplication.

In common language, for example in grade school, natural numbers may be called **counting numbers**^{[11]} to distinguish them from the real numbers which are used for measurement.

## Contents

## History

The most primitive method of representing a natural number is to put down a dot for each object. Later, a set of objects could be tested for equality, excess or shortage, by striking out a dot and removing an object from the set.

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 over 1 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, using base sixty, so that the symbol for sixty was the same as the symbol for one, its value being determined from context.^{[15]}

A much later advance was the development of the idea that 0 can be considered as a number, with its own numeral. The use of a 0 digit in place-value notation (within other numbers) dates back as early as 700 BC by the Babylonians, but they omitted such a digit when it would have been the last symbol in the number.^{[16]} The Olmec and Maya civilizations used 0 as a separate number as early as the 1st century BC, but this usage did not spread beyond Mesoamerica.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B=
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}} The use of a numeral 0 in modern times originated with the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta in 628. However, 0 had been used as a number in the medieval computus (the calculation of the date of Easter), beginning with Dionysius Exiguus in 525, without being denoted by a numeral (standard Roman numerals do not have a symbol for 0); instead *nulla* (or the genitive form *nullae*) from *nullus*, the Latin word for "none", was employed to denote a 0 value.^{[17]}

The first systematic study of numbers as abstractions is usually credited to the Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Archimedes. Many Greek mathematicians did not consider 1 to be "a number", so to them **2** was the smallest number.^{[18]}

Independent studies also occurred at around the same time in India, China, and Mesoamerica.^{[19]}

Set-theoretical definitions of natural numbers were developed in the 19th century. With these definitions it was convenient to include 0 (corresponding to the empty set) as a natural number. Including 0 is now Template:Cn span among set theorists, logicians, and computer scientists. Many other mathematicians also include 0,^{[10]} although some have kept the older tradition and take 1 to be the first natural number.^{[20]}

## Notation

Mathematicians use **N** or (an N in blackboard bold, displayed as ℕ in Unicode) to refer to the set of all natural numbers. This set is countably infinite: it is infinite but countable by definition. This is also expressed by saying that the cardinal number of the set is aleph-naught .^{[21]}

To be unambiguous about whether 0 is included or not, sometimes an index (or superscript) "0" is added in the former case, and a superscript "" or subscript "" is added in the latter case:{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B=
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## Properties

### Addition

One can recursively define an addition on the natural numbers by setting *a* + 0 = *a* and *a* + *S*(*b*) = *S*(*a* + *b*) for all *a*, *b*. Here *S* should be read as "successor". This turns the natural numbers (**N**, +) into a commutative monoid with identity element 0, the so-called free object with one generator. This monoid satisfies the cancellation property and can be embedded in a group (in the mathematical sense of the word *group*). The smallest group containing the natural numbers is the integers.

If 1 is defined as *S*(0), then *b* + 1 = *b* + *S*(0) = *S*(*b* + 0) = *S*(*b*). That is, *b* + 1 is simply the successor of *b*.

### Multiplication

Analogously, given that addition has been defined, a multiplication × can be defined via *a* × 0 = 0 and *a* × S(*b*) = (*a* × *b*) + *a*. This turns (**N**^{*}, ×) into a free commutative monoid with identity element 1; a generator set for this monoid is the set of prime numbers.

### Relationship between addition and multiplication

Addition and multiplication are compatible, which is expressed in the distribution law: *a* × (*b* + *c*) = (*a* × *b*) + (*a* × *c*). These properties of addition and multiplication make the natural numbers an instance of a commutative semiring. Semirings are an algebraic generalization of the natural numbers where multiplication is not necessarily commutative. The lack of additive inverses, which is equivalent to the fact that **N** is not closed under subtraction, means that **N** is *not* a ring; instead it is a semiring (also known as a *rig*).

If the natural numbers are taken as "excluding 0", and "starting at 1", the definitions of + and × are as above, except that they begin with *a* + 1 = *S*(*a*) and *a* × 1 = *a*.

### Order

In this section, juxtaposed variables such as *ab* indicate the product *a* × *b*, and the standard order of operations is assumed.

A total order on the natural numbers is defined by letting *a* ≤ *b* if and only if there exists another natural number *c* with *a* + *c* = *b*. This order is compatible with the arithmetical operations in the following sense: if *a*, *b* and *c* are natural numbers and *a* ≤ *b*, then *a* + *c* ≤ *b* + *c* and *ac* ≤ *bc*. An important property of the natural numbers is that they are well-ordered: every non-empty set of natural numbers has a least element. The rank among well-ordered sets is expressed by an ordinal number; for the natural numbers this is expressed as *ω*.

### Division

In this section, juxtaposed variables such as *ab* indicate the product *a* × *b*, and the standard order of operations is assumed.

While it is in general not possible to divide one natural number by another and get a natural number as result, the procedure of *division with remainder* is available as a substitute: for any two natural numbers *a* and *b* with *b* ≠ 0 there are natural numbers *q* and *r* such that

*a*=*bq*+*r*and*r*<*b*.

The number *q* is called the *quotient* and *r* is called the *remainder* of division of *a* by *b*. The numbers *q* and *r* are uniquely determined by *a* and *b*. This Euclidean division is key to several other properties (divisibility), algorithms (such as the Euclidean algorithm), and ideas in number theory.

### Algebraic properties satisfied by the natural numbers

The addition (+) and multiplication (×) operations on natural numbers as defined above have several algebraic properties:

- Closure under addition and multiplication: for all natural numbers
*a*and*b*, both*a*+*b*and*a*×*b*are natural numbers. - Associativity: for all natural numbers
*a*,*b*, and*c*,*a*+ (*b*+*c*) = (*a*+*b*) +*c*and*a*× (*b*×*c*) = (*a*×*b*) ×*c*. - Commutativity: for all natural numbers
*a*and*b*,*a*+*b*=*b*+*a*and*a*×*b*=*b*×*a*. - Existence of identity elements: for every natural number
*a*,*a*+ 0 =*a*and*a*× 1 =*a*. - Distributivity of multiplication over addition for all natural numbers
*a*,*b*, and*c*,*a*× (*b*+*c*) = (*a*×*b*) + (*a*×*c*). - No nonzero zero divisors: if
*a*and*b*are natural numbers such that*a*×*b*= 0, then*a*= 0 or*b*= 0.

## Generalizations

Two generalizations of natural numbers arise from the two uses:

- A natural number can be used to express the size of a finite set; more generally a cardinal number is a measure for the size of a set also suitable for infinite sets; this refers to a concept of "size" such that if there is a bijection between two sets they have the same size. The set of natural numbers itself and any other countably infinite set has cardinality aleph-null ().
- Linguistic ordinal numbers "first", "second", "third" can be assigned to the elements of a totally ordered finite set, and also to the elements of well-ordered countably infinite sets like the set of natural numbers itself. This can be generalized to ordinal numbers which describe the position of an element in a well-ordered set in general. An ordinal number is also used to describe the "size" of a well-ordered set, in a sense different from cardinality: if there is an order isomorphism between two well-ordered sets they have the same ordinal number. The first ordinal number that is not a natural number is expressed as ; this is also the ordinal number of the set of natural numbers itself.

Many well-ordered sets with cardinal number have an ordinal number greater than (the latter is the lowest possible). The least ordinal of cardinality (i.e., the initial ordinal) is .

For finite well-ordered sets, there is one-to-one correspondence between ordinal and cardinal numbers; therefore they can both be expressed by the same natural number, the number of elements of the set. This number can also be used to describe the position of an element in a larger finite, or an infinite, sequence.

A countable non-standard model of arithmetic satisfying the Peano Arithmetic (i.e., the first-order Peano axioms) was developed by Skolem in 1933. The hypernatural numbers are an uncountable model that can be constructed from the ordinary natural numbers via the ultrapower construction.

Georges Reeb used to claim provocatively that *The naïve integers don't fill up* . Other generalizations are discussed in the article on numbers.

## Formal definitions

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At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, mathematicians saw a need to improve the logical rigor in the foundations of mathematics.^{[22]} In this context, mathematicians began to formalize the concept of number that had earlier been taken for granted. Two classes of formalizations occurred. Giuseppe Peano's formalization was based on an axiomatization of the properties of ordinal numbers: each natural number has a successor and every non-zero natural number has a unique predecessor. The other formalization, which was initiated by Frege, is based on set theory and the concept of cardinal number. Initially, Frege defined a natural number as the class of all sets that are in one-to-one correspondence with a particular set, but this definition turned out to lead to paradoxes, such as Russell's paradox. Therefore, this formalism was modified so that a natural number is defined as a particular set, and any set that can be put into one-to-one correspondence with that set is said to have that number of elements.^{[23]}

Peano arithmetic is equiconsistent with several weak systems of set theory. One such system is ZFC with the axiom of infinity replaced by its negation. Theorems that can be proved in ZFC but cannot be proved using the Peano Axioms include Goodstein's theorem.^{[24]}

### Peano axioms

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The properties of the natural numbers can be derived from the Peano axioms.^{[25]}^{[26]}

- Axiom One: 0 is a natural number.
- Axiom Two: Every natural number has a successor.
- Axiom Three: 0 is not the successor of any natural number.
- Axiom Four: If the successor of x equals the successor of y, then x equals y.
- Axiom Five (the Axiom of Induction): If a statement is true of 0, and if the truth of that statement for a number implies its truth for the successor of that number, then the statement is true for every natural number.

These are not the original axioms published by Peano, but are named in his honor. Some forms of the Peano axioms have 1 in place of 0. In ordinary arithmetic, the successor of x is x + 1. Replacing Axiom Five by an axiom schema one obtains a (weaker) first-order theory called *Peano Arithmetic.*

### Constructions based on set theory

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In the area of mathematics called set theory, a special case of the von Neumann ordinal construction ^{[27]} defines the natural numbers as follows:

- Set 0 := { }, the empty set,
- and define
*S*(*a*) =*a*∪ {*a*} for every set*a*.*S*(*a*) is the successor of*a*, and*S*is called the successor function. - By the axiom of infinity, there exists a set which contains 0 and is closed under the successor function. (Such sets are said to be `inductive'.) Then the intersection of all inductive sets is defined to be the set of natural numbers. It can be checked that the set of natural numbers satisfies the Peano axioms.
- Each natural number is then equal to the set of all natural numbers less than it, so that
- 0 = { }
- 1 = {0} = {{ }}
- 2 = {0, 1} = {0, {0}} = {{ }, {{ }}}
- 3 = {0, 1, 2} = {0, {0}, {0, {0}}} ={{ }, {{ }}, {{ }, {{ }}}}
*n*= {0, 1, 2, ...,*n*−2,*n*−1} = {0, 1, 2, ...,*n*−2} ∪ {*n*−1} = (*n*−1) ∪ {*n*−1} =*S*(*n*−1)

- and so on.

With this definition, a natural number *n* is a particular set with *n* elements, and *n* ≤ *m* if and only if *n* is a subset of *m*.

Also, with this definition, different possible interpretations of notations like **R**^{n} (*n-*tuples versus mappings of *n* into **R**) coincide.

Even if one does not accept the axiom of infinity and therefore cannot accept that the set of all natural numbers exists, it is still possible to define any one of these sets.

#### Other constructions

Although the standard construction is useful, it is not the only possible construction. Zermelo's construction goes as follows.

- one defines 0 = { }
- and
*S*(*a*) = {*a*}, - producing
- 0 = { }
- 1 = {0} ={{ }}
- 2 = {1} = {{{ }}}, etc.

- Each natural number is then equal to the set of the natural number preceding it.

It is also possible to define 0 = {{ }}

- and
*S*(*a*) =*a*∪ {*a*} - producing
- 0 = {{ }}
- 1 = {{ }, 0} = {{ }, {{ }}}
- 2 = {{ }, 0, 1}, etc.

The attempt by Frege mentioned above, as modified by Russell, where each natural number *n* is defined as the set of all sets with *n* elements has been modified to avoid paradoxes.^{[28]}^{[29]} This definition at first may appear circular, but can be made rigorous with care. Define 0 as {{ }} (clearly the set of all sets with zero elements) and define *S*(*A*) (for any set *A*) as Template:Nowrap begin{*x* ∪ {*y*} | *x* ∈ *A* ∧ *y* ∉ *x*}Template:Nowrap end (see set-builder notation). Then 0 will be the set of all sets with zero elements, 1 = *S*(0) will be the set of all sets with one element, 2 = *S*(1) will be the set of all sets with two elements, and so forth. The set of all natural numbers can be defined as the intersection of all sets containing 0 as an element and closed under *S* (that is, if the set contains an element *n*, it also contains *S*(*n*)). One could also define "finite" independently of the notion of "natural number", and then define natural numbers as equivalence classes of finite sets under the equivalence relation of equipollence. To avoid the paradoxes that occur in the usual systems of axiomatic set theory (because the collections (classes) involved are too large), we need to drop the axiom of separation); the resulting variant of set theory is called New Foundations. There are other attempts to reformulate set theory without the axiom of separation, and these variants have been shown to be consistent if New Foundations is consistent. Another approach is found in some systems of type theory.

## See also

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- Integer
- Set-theoretic definition of natural numbers
- Peano axioms
- Canonical representation of a positive integer
- Countable set
- Number#Classification for other number systems (rational, real, complex etc.)

## Notes

- ↑ Weisstein, Eric W., "Whole Number",
*MathWorld*. - ↑ Template:Harvtxt: "
**whole number**An integer, though sometimes it is taken to mean only non-negative integers, or just the positive integers." - ↑ Template:Harvtxt give definitions of "whole number" under several headwords:

INTEGER …*Syn.*whole number.

NUMBER … whole number. A nonnegative integer.

WHOLE … whole number.

Template:Spaces(1) One of the integers 0, 1, 2, 3, … .

Template:Spaces(2) A positive integer;*i.e.*, a natural number.

Template:Spaces(3) An integer, positive, negative, or zero. - ↑
The
*Common Core State Standards for Mathematics*say: "Whole numbers. The numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, ...." (Glossary, p. 87) (PDF)

Definitions from*The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Mathematics*, Ontario Ministry of Education (2005) (PDF)

Template:Spaces"**natural numbers.**The counting numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, ...." (Glossary, p. 128)

Template:Spaces"**whole number.**Any one of the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, ...." (Glossary, p. 134)

Template:Harvtxt: "As mentioned earlier, the study of the set of whole numbers,*W*= {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, ...}, is the foundation of elementary school mathematics."

These pre-algebra books define the*whole numbers*:

- Template:Harvtxt: "Another important collection of numbers is the
*whole numbers*, the natural numbers together with zero." (Chapter 1:*The Whole Story*, p. 4). On the inside front cover, the authors say: "We based this book on the state standards for pre-algebra in California, Florida, New York, and Texas, ..." - Template:Harvtxt: "When 0 is added to the set of natural numbers, the set is called the whole numbers." (Chapter 1:
*Whole Numbers*, p. 1)

- Both books define the
*natural numbers*to be: "1, 2, 3, …".

- Template:Harvtxt: "Another important collection of numbers is the
- ↑ Template:Harvtxt says: "The whole fantastic hierarchy of number systems is built up by purely set-theoretic means from a few simple assumptions about natural numbers." (Preface, p. x)
- ↑ Template:Harvtxt: "Numbers make up the foundation of mathematics." (p. 1)
- ↑
Weisstein, Eric W., "Natural Number",
*MathWorld*. - ↑ {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}
- ↑ Template:Harvtxt says: "ℕ is the set of natural numbers (positive integers)" (p. 3)
- ↑
^{10.0}^{10.1}Template:Harvtxt include zero in the natural numbers: 'Intuitively, the set ℕ = {0, 1, 2, ... } of all*natural numbers*may be described as follows: ℕ contains an "initial" number 0; ...'. They follow that with their version of the Peano Postulates. (p. 15) - ↑ Weisstein, Eric W., "Counting Number",
*MathWorld*. - ↑ Introduction, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium.
- ↑ Flash presentation, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium.
- ↑ The Ishango Bone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on permanent display at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium. UNESCO's Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy
- ↑ Georges Ifrah,
*The Universal History of Numbers*, Wiley, 2000, ISBN 0-471-37568-3 - ↑ Template:Cite web
- ↑ Template:Cite web
- ↑ This convention is used, for example, in Euclid's Elements, see Book VII, definitions 1 and 2.
- ↑ Morris Kline,
*Mathematical Thought From Ancient to Modern Times*, Oxford University Press, 1990 [1972], ISBN 0-19-506135-7 - ↑ This is common in texts about Real analysis. See, for example, Template:Harvtxt or Template:Harvtxt.
- ↑ Weisstein, Eric W., "Cardinal Number",
*MathWorld*. - ↑ "Much of the mathematical work of the twentieth century has been devoted to examining the logical foundations and structure of the subject." Template:Harv
- ↑ Template:Harvnb
- ↑ L. Kirby; J. Paris,
*Accessible Independence Results for Peano Arithmetic*, Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society 14 (4): 285. doi:10.1112/blms/14.4.285, 1982. - ↑ {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}
- ↑ Template:Harvtxt calls them "Peano's Postulates" and begins with "1.Template:Spaces0 is a natural number." (p. 117f)

Template:Harvtxt uses the language of set theory instead of the language of arithmetic for his five axioms. He begins with "(I)Template:Spaces (where, of course, )" ( is the set of all natural numbers). (p. 46)

Template:Harvtxt gives "a two-part axiom" in which the natural numbers begin with 1. (Section 10.1:*An Axiomatization for the System of Positive Integers*) - ↑ Template:Harvnb
- ↑
*Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik:**eine logisch-mathematische Untersuchung über den Begriff der Zahl*(1884). Breslau. - ↑ Whitehead, Alfred North, and Bertrand Russell.
*Principia Mathematica*, 3 vols, Cambridge University Press, 1910, 1912, and 1913. Second edition, 1925 (Vol. 1), 1927 (Vols 2, 3). Abridged as*Principia Mathematica to *56*, Cambridge University Press, 1962.

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