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Math or math? Writing

By Simon Kewin

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Is "math" or "math" the right word to use as a shorthand or colloquial form of the word math? The answer is that it depends on where you are.

For North Americans who speak English, the word to use is "math," as in "I studied mathematics," and "math" would sound fake. However, British English speakers always said "mathematics" as in "I have a degree in mathematics". They would never say "math."

There are logical arguments for both spellings. The word "mathematics" can be considered singular and plural nouns. Both the Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionary say that the word is plural – hence the s in the end – but also that it is usually used as if it were a singular noun. So most people would say, "Mathematics is my best subject" and not "Mathematics is my best subject". So the short form "mathematics" makes sense because the word is still a plural and therefore should still have the "s" in the end. On the other hand, it could be argued that "math" makes sense because it seems wrong to remove the letters "ematic" from the middle of the word and leave the last "s".

There are a number of other plural nouns that are used as singulars – for example, economics, ethics, politics, gymnastics, measles, and dominoes. However, these words are not usually shortened, which makes maths rather an unusual word.

It is sometimes surprising how much argument and disagreement can cause small differences like this single letter. For example, readers in the UK are sometimes very upset when someone writes "math" instead of "math." Undoubtedly, the opposite is the case in the USA. In practice, it's easy to be aware of geographic differences so you can use the right form of the word in your writing.

Other differences between the US and the UK

Of course, there are many spelling differences between American and British English – Colin has investigated the reasons for this in An Englishman, New York – The problem of British and American English in freelance writing.

But are there any other words like math / math where one version of English has an "s" at the end of the word and the other does not?

There is a very popular toy that you are likely to pedal all too often if you have children. It is made by a company called LEGO. How do you point to a handful of these stones?

In the US, say "Please pick up your Legos."

In the UK, you would say, "Please pick up your Lego." Note the absence of an "s".

this is that turning back the math / math situation where US English has the "s" at the end of the word and UK English lacks it.

So, who is right?

Neither!

The correct plural, according to LEGO, is "LEGO bricks" or "LEGO sets". (Note also the capitalization.) So instead of saying "Take your Legos", you should also say "Take your LEGO bricks".

Here are some examples of "Lego" and "Legos" used in various publications:

A robot from which small models can be built Lego This can be a breakthrough for automated manufacturing – when it is no longer possible to drop stones.

(BBC News – British publication)

The building blocks are known as Legos have long been beloved toys. But did you know that the name actually has strategic importance?

(Huffington Post – American publication)

Continue reading about American and British English

To learn more about the differences between American and British English, read these resources at Daily Writing Tips:

7 British English writing resources, Mark Nichols – This article summarizes a number of style guides and text editing handbooks that authors who work for British publications should find helpful

An "L" or two?Maeve Maddox – There are many words that can take an "ll" or an "l" depending on whether you're writing for a British or an American audience. Maeve lists some common ones and explains the general rule to follow.

Worship and abductionMaeve Maddox – should you add an extra "p" when adding "ing" to words like "worship" and "abduction"? It depends on! Maeve outlines the problem here.

Program against program, Ali Hale – Both British and American English use "program" when talking about computers, but British English uses "program" for many other areas (eg, a "study program"). This article explains the difference and how to use "program" as a verb.

Punctuation Error: American and British quotes, Daniel Scocco – While both American and British English use punctuation in a broadly similar way, there is a significant difference in punctuation and quotation marks. Daniel explains it here.

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