Positive and Negative Numbers - What Numbers Mean

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We use numbers to show how many or how much there is of something:

  • People have 2 eyes
  • There are 5 toes on a foot
  • There are 7 days in a week
  • There are 12 inches in a yard
  • You have 15 pennies in your pocket ... and so on

We use positive numbers to show these things. Up until now we probably haven't said "positive numbers" ; we've just said "numbers".

We show positive numbers with a + sign

+5 means positive five

We usually don't say "positive" even though that is what we mean so...

5 is the same as +5

Using Negative Numbers

  • The temperature is 12 degrees colder than yesterday
  • I owe my sister 6 dollars
  • My friend wants to lose 10 pounds
  • The car was driving 5 miles per hour under the speed limit

Negative numbers are less than zero

We need numbers to represent these things too. We use negative numbers.

We show negative numbers with a - sign

-7 means negative seven

Sometimes people say "minus seven" instead of "negative seven" - they both mean the same

Negative numbers let us show values without using lots of words. Negative numbers are useful for calculations.

Using Words With Negative Numbers
A golfer scored 70 on a par 72 course (two under par) Her score was -2
A man owed $500 to the bank His balance was
The quarterback gets sacked and the team loses 15 yards. The team is -15 yards on the play
The temperature changed from 10 degrees above zero during the day to 10 below zero at night There was a -20 degree change in temperature

Negative numbers are less than zero

The number line below shows how negative numbers go to the left of zero.

number line showing negative numbers to the left of zero


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