Tag Archives: subtraction

The Vocabulary of Subtraction

Near the beginning of this month, there was a blog entry (“Vocabulary of Addition”) in which I defined the math terms for an equation using the operation of addition. Today, I will show you the English math words associated with the fundamental skill of subtraction and its associated numerical expressions {language model}.


A minuend is the number from which another is to be subtracted.


The minus sign is the symbol that represents the operation of subtraction in this equation.


The subtrahend is the number to be subtracted from the minuend.


The difference is the result of subtracting the subtrahend from the minuend.

As you can see, the terms associated with subtraction are a little more obscure and less commonly used in math conversations than the ones for addition. These terms emphasize the fact that the order of terms in subtracting two numbers does matter.  We need to recognize this difference when we use language to describe mathematics.

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The Mechanical Arithmetic of the Pascaline

Blaise_pascalBlaise Pascal (1623-1662) is known today as a brilliant French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher. In 1642, he attempted to help his father, a tax collector, deal with the repetitive arithmetic calculations that were part of the task of reorganizing the tax revenues of the French province of Upper Normandy. He was thus motivated to develop and invent the only functional calculator of the 17th century, known as the Pascaline, in 1645. It could add and (indirectly) subtract two numbers. It could also multiply and divide by repetition. In 1649 a royal privilege, by Louis XIV of France, gave him the exclusivity of the design and manufacturing of calculating machines in France. He designed the only functional calculator of the 17th century.


As far as I can tell, nine Pascalines still exist today. Four of them are on display at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (CNAM) museum in Paris, France. There is also an interesting video that explains how this fascinating mechanical calculator worked. I encourage you to watch, learn and explore this intriguing bit of math history and technology.

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