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shameless pleading

Math vs. Maths

Count me out.

Dear Word Detective:  I am a sometimes math teacher. Occasionally, even a mathematics teacher. As such, I follow the latest and greatest on my subject and am troubled by the increasing use of the word “maths.” I know you usually look backward to enlighten us on words, but here we see a trend unfolding forward. (And to my ears, it’s a disturbing trend.) Could you explain why “math” now needs to be plural? None of my (younger) maths (?) colleagues are as interested in words as I am and so they shrug off the question. — Bill.

Kids these days, eh? I was never very good at math until a moment in, I believe, tenth grade, when a very gifted math teacher was explaining a trigonometry problem to me. Suddenly, I got it; everything became marvelously clear and I realized with a thrill that I had finally grasped the underlying beauty and grandeur of mathematics. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I promptly forgot everything I had just learned and went on to relentlessly flunk math until they let me give up. To this day I am not allowed to play with my own checkbook.

So I admire folks who genuinely “get it” and have mastered the numerical arts of algebra, trigonometry, geometry, necromancy and so on that constitute the field of knowledge known today as “mathematics.” The word “mathematics” itself, the source of all this “maths” business, comes from the Greek “manthanein,” meaning “to learn,” which is also related to our modern English words “memory” and “mind.” When “mathematics” entered the English language from French in the 14th century (in the form “mathematic”), it actually included any field that involved numerical calculation (astronomy, physics, etc.), and the broad scope of its Greek roots lives on in the English word “polymath,” meaning a person of expertise in many fields.

“Math” as a colloquial short form of “mathematics” first appeared in print quite a while ago, in 1847, although that “math” sported a period (“It rained so that we had a math. lesson indoors.”) and was thus clearly a simple informal abbreviation. “Math” unadorned appeared by the 1870s. “Maths” is a bit newer, first appearing in print in 1911.

There is no difference, however, between “math” and “maths” apart from that “s” on the end of “maths.” Occasionally you’ll hear arguments that “maths” is more proper because it’s short for “mathematics” and thus should be plural. But although the field we call “mathematics” includes multiple disciplines (such as geometry, calculus, etc.), “mathematics” is a collective noun (as is “physics,” etc.), so it’s considered singular. You can tell that from how “mathematics” is treated grammatically: we say “My favorite subject is mathematics,” not “… are mathematics.” The form “mathematics” actually represents what was a common practice, about the time of the first appearance of “mathematic,” of using the plural form of a name of a field of study as a singular noun, as in the case of “acoustics,” “physics,” “linguistics” and many others. Terms that came into English earlier, such as “arithmetic,” didn’t get that “s.”

The only truly relevant difference between “math” and “maths” is usage. “Maths” is commonly used in Great Britain, while “math” is standard in the US. I’m afraid that your cohorts’ sudden affection for “maths,” unless they studied in Britain, may be another case of Anglophiliac posturing by Americans. It’s the same sort of affectation that leads PBS addicts to speak of “the telly” and that gave us the now-omnipresent Brit invention “gone missing” on the news. But while “gone missing” arguably fills a real gap in the American vocabulary (it certainly beats the hyper-dramatic “disappeared”), “maths” on this side of the Atlantic strikes me as silly and vaguely pathetic. But you’re right; it does seem to be spreading. One participant in an online discussion of the “math vs. maths” question I came across reported having recently heard Garrison Keillor say “Do the maths” on his radio show. If Keillor actually did say it, I’m really, really hoping that he was joking.

176 comments to Math vs. Maths

  • Charlie N.

    I never heard “Maths” until TWD’s recent column. Garrison Keillor must have been joking! If we have “Do the maths,” then why not “Take a baths?”

    • Darryle Knowles

      It’s maths not math.

      Reason – we study mathmatics not mathmatic.

      Pure and simple as that.

      Darryle Knowles
      Brisbane, Qld, Australia.

      • Coren

        So your argument is that the word ends in an s, therefore its abbreviation should as well? Because that pretty much only works on words which are already plural.

        • Hobsie

          It’s quite common to abbreviate a word so that it contains the first and last letter plus a combination of the interim letters to ensure it retains the words overall feel. Likewise it is just as common to use part of the word.

          Both seem perfectly valid to me but I much prefer how Maths rolls off the tongue.

      • Kathy

        Darryle: If you can’t spell mathematics, you don’t get an opinion.

        Here in the USA, it is correct to say “do the math.” Had I said “do the mathematic,”
        I would be incorrect. But math is an accepted short name for mathematics and has been around for hundreds of years. Therefore, Americans say “do the math” or “do the mathematics.”

        In addition, the English language was not invented by one country. When the Germanic tribes invaded England in the 5th century, they brought their language with them. Therefore, English is a combination of other languages and has evolved through the years. Therefore, no one gets to play the “England invented it” card. That’s a moot point anyway. If we moved out of England, but we spoke English, we can choose to modify the language to suit our country’s needs.

        Finally, there are more similarities than differences between British English and American English, but those differences should be respected.

      • Kathy

        Sorry about the weird line break behind mathematics. I can’t do anything about that.

    • dj

      I fink your wrong, it’s math.

    • Lols

      That’s ridiculous! Don’t even bring the word Bath into this. Get it off this page! it’s highly unsound for this discussion!

  • Daniel

    Currently in my early 20s, I don’t really notice whether people use math or maths. After reading this, I will probably start to, especially now that I am doing it as part of my undergrad.

    In primary and secondary school, however, it was always maths. I remember only one person who said math – a friend, probably trying to sound more enlightened (it worked)

    I agree that it is a locale thing. I’m in New Zealand. It was only because of the interweb that I became aware of how common math is – now I see such a mix I don’t notice.

  • This has bugged me for a long time, too. It was always math when I majored in it college. The first time I heard maths was 10 or 20 years ago, and at first only British usages. But today it seems all-pervasive. Whenever I’ve complained about it online, I’ve consistently gotten the response “it may have been singular in your youth old-timer, but it’s plural today because it covers so many sub-divisions.” B*S*! I’m not old enough to remember Pythagoras or Euclid! Since their days, Math has always included arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry and more!

  • wilson

    I cannot see what the issue is. I am Scottish but like you Americans I have to submit to the fact that English belongs to to England. The language as spoken and written in the UK is English and must be considered as correct. Therefore since we say MATHS then MATHS is correct.
    The Kiwis and the Ozzies use UK English. If America wants to create a new version of English with diferent spelling and different pronunciation then why not just call it American and be done with it.

    • Jean

      You say “if America wants to create” as if we didn’t already do that a long time ago. Different spelling and pronunciation included.

    • Jon

      HL MENCKEN – The American Language 1919 .
      American English is a horse of a slightly different colour – or is that color? I don’t see any Aussie language bashing – and I’m am sure you don’t call farms “stations” back in the UK. What’s this nonsense about submitting to British English. While the British were trying to figure out why the Comet airliner had problems with the wings snapping off of the aircraft, Americans coined the term astronaut; no one had to ask permission from a British grammarian to approve usage of the term. That goes for LASER , Microprocessor , transistor , cell phone ….. etc.. etc… etc…

      • Phil

        LASER is an acronym and it has always amused me that some have decided to change it to “LAZER”. I’m curious to know what the Z (zed) stands for.
        And only farms which are about the size of the UK are called stations in Australia.

      • Stephen

        It’s “mobile phone”, not “cell phone” if we are talking English. “Astronaut” was coined in 1930, over 20 years before the Comet even flew, let alone suffered structural failure (the wings never snapped off). And it’s maths.

  • John Bull

    Mathematics is a plural noun. Therefore, the correct shortened form of the word is Maths. By the way, the past participle of get is got.

    • Jon

      Mathematics is NOT Mathematics are ..
      In usage , it is singular , not plural, therefore you proved the point , that the form MATH is correct.

      • Jimmy

        Mathematics is a plural, because there are several mathematical types, calculus, trig, algebra, etc.

        If you shorten a plural, you are still left with a plural, hence maths is correct.

        • Paige

          The British just don’t seem to get basic concepts like collective nouns. Is the abbreviated form of physics actually “physs”? Of course it isn’t. Additionally the dialects evolved separately, and I would like to know which one of their nation’s local dialects is “correct”. I have found they cannot even understand one another. It’s fortunate that American English doesn’t qualify as a separate language, because the world would no longer advertize for TEFL teachers. They would all be asking for TAFL teachers.

          • Martyn

            What an arrogant and egotistical reply! There isn’t an abbreviated form of the word ‘physics’ – so that is just ridiculous! As for the TEFL/TAFL comment – pathetic arrogance!

            Bottom line is, Math is the usage in North America and Maths is the general usage in the rest of the English speaking world….. One is no more correct than the other!!

      • jason

        some forms of mathematics are difficult?!?!?!

    • Scorp

      If Mathematics is a plural noun, then your grammar is atrocious. “[Plural noun] are…”, “[Singular noun] is…”. Also if Mathematics is plural, than what’s the singular?

  • Fred

    John Bull – if you actually read the very good article above you would see that it clearly states that “mathematics” is a collective noun.

    “Math” or “maths” is a shortened version of “mathematics”. Here in the UK we always say “maths” and in the US they usually say “math”.

    • Angela

      That simply is it-”maths” is British/Australian/NZ, and “math” is American. As an American living in Europe, I am exposed to a lot of British English spelling-like “tyre” instead of “tire.”

      I wonder as the Canadians speak like Americans, but spell like the Brits, is it “maths” or “math” to them?

      • pat

        Speaking as a Canadian, I’d never encountered “maths” till about a year ago. I was just reading a British written webcomic and wanted to learn the distinction.

        Then again, I live in Alberta. I can’t say how it’s used in Ontario, what with varied dialects and all.

      • Legion

        I’m from Ontario. It’s math here. “Maths” drives me crazy when I see it, cause whenever I see it, my brain stops and says “maths” in my head, which just sounds awkward.

        In the battle between American English and British English, I usually side with American. Most of the time it’s more concise and spelled how it sounds, which from a communication standpoint makes it more clear.

        Color vs Colour: I have to type an extra letter and it’s pronounced like Color not Colower.

        Theater vs Theatre: It’s pronounced like theater, not thee-a-tree.

        So, yeah, “America! *Bleep* Yeah!”

  • Lee

    If math is a contraction of mathematics, then why just drop the ematic and not everything after the h ? I mean, really, the only reason that we use it is so we don’t have to use the full word.

  • Lee

    Sorry, I meant CONTRACTION. Too much coffee today.

  • Lee

    ABBREVIATION, Way too much coffee!

  • Kay

    Would it be possible for you to provide references for the following section? I am very interested in locating them.

    ““Math” as a colloquial short form of “mathematics” first appeared in print quite a while ago, in 1847, although that “math” sported a period (“It rained so that we had a math. lesson indoors.”) and was thus clearly a simple informal abbreviation. “Math” unadorned appeared by the 1870s. “Maths” is a bit newer, first appearing in print in 1911.

    Much thanks.

  • [...] more at Math vs. Maths « The Word Detective. (No Ratings Yet)  Loading … Cool Facts ← A word problem from a Physics [...]

  • It’s imperative that more pleope make this exact point.

  • Dave

    “Maths” does sound strange to my American ears, and I’m pretty certain that I will never adopt that usage, but I think your reasoning is faulty when you write, “You can tell that from how “mathematics” is treated grammatically: we say “My favorite subject is mathematics,” not “… are mathematics.”
    The subject of the verb in that sentence is “subject,” not “mathematics.” So that proves nothing about how “mathematics” is treated gramatically. More telling is whether you would say, “Mathematics is (or are) my favorite subject.”
    On that score, a recent article in the Economist clearly treats “maths” as singular, in the phrase, “the maths suggests that … .” Sorry, Brits and Anglophiles, but that just sounds weird.

  • Vee

    Depends on the english you speak. As a British English speaker I have always used Maths and hearing Math annoys me. American English speakers use Math. The way I see it English is a laguage created by the English and if they say Maths then Maths it is.

    • Greg Woods

      Hearing Math annoys me too, but in many cases, ‘American’ spellings are the same as much older English spellings. It is modern British English that changed – at least if Bill Bryson is to be believed

      • D Nagureo

        I think that the argument for accuracy of American usage in English is too often based upon what was the earliest usage of a term, for example, that math is possibly correct as it was the earliest contraction of mathematics.

        If we applied this thought process to anything in English that we would see that the entirety of the English language is “incorrect” as most things were at some point replacements for a previously used word or term.

        Therefore the best definition of correct English would necessarily be the current usage in England, whereas the current usage in America (for example) would best be termed correct “American English”, not simply correct English.

        We seem to do this all the time with European languages, however a speaker of Mandarin and a speaker of Cantonese would not argue over what was correct “Chinese”.

  • Dan

    I’m British and have always preferred maths over math, and probably due to that exposure I actually think (contrary to a previous poster) ‘math’ sounds less enlightened to my ear (rather like you have a blocked nose XD).
    maths maths maths maths :)

  • Toby

    Being English Maths sounds more correct to my ear, but it is well recognised that US english is different (note the lack of a z in recognised for eg) and as such math is more correct in America just as the pronunciation of herb in the US is “‘erb” from the french origin.
    I do find it out when Smericans in the UK say it though, if US-en is separate to GB-en then its like speaking Spanish to an Italian!

    • nick

      you are quick to point out we say ‘erb’, disregarding the H sound. but you people say ‘istorical’, and even go so far as to use the appalling phrase ‘an ‘istorical…’. another example? this is more an issue of dialect, but some of you say ‘edge’ instead of ‘hedge’.

      • Stephen

        That’s a dropped h which is viewed as incorrect speech in England. “Erb” rather than “herb” just sounds silly, but “an historical” is absolutely correct grammatically.

        • Kathy

          You are incorrect. It is NOT an historical. The rule when using “an” vs. “a” is whether or not the next word begins with a vowel or sounds as if it begins with a vowel.

          An apple, an aardvark, an HONEST man (sounds as if it begins with a vowel).

          You use “a” when the next word begins with a consonant: a history book, a historical occasion. You would never say “an history book.” Now, I admit an historical occasion rolls off the tongue nicely, but that does not make it grammatically correct.

          Check your college grammar book before posting.

        • Kathy

          Stephen: If you naturally pronounce historical as istorical, (but you don’t), that would be the only way that “an historical” would be correct.

  • Baby Gervase

    Surely an abbreviation must keep the same plurality as the word it’s abbreviating. Thus, ‘bike’ is the abbreviation for ‘bicycle’ but we use ‘bikes’ for ‘bicycles’. If we accept that ‘mathematics’ is singular because it is a collective noun (as in “Mathematics is my favourite subject”) then the abbreviation should also appear singular: ‘math’.

    However, as an Englishman ‘math’ sounds foreign to my ears and over here we only ever use it in the expression “Do the math” (and we only ever use that ironcially anyway because it sounds so American).

    Live and let live, I say. I love all the different ways the language gets mangled in both countries.

  • Baby Gervase

    An afterthought: how do Americans abbreviate the word ‘spectacles’?

    Like ‘mathematics’ it is one of a rather small group of words that look like plurals but are actually in the singular, but I dare say an American would be unlikely to say, “Now, where have I left my spec?”. Which just goes to show the futility of trying to come up with rules for words that are formed in non-standard ways. Vive la difference!

  • Holly

    @Baby Gervase:

    Americans do not say “spectacles.” They say “glasses.” And it is always “glasses” and not “glass.”

    • An intelligent awsenr – no BS – which makes a pleasant change

    • Jon

      Rarely used , but they say specs.- Because it is treated as a plural noun.

      If we are creating a rule here , the shortened form of a word must follow the grammar of its parent word , then plural nouns but be shortened with an “s” and singular and collective nouns , are without the “s”. But remember, English has few consistent rules, it is a complicated array of exceptions.

  • ZaZa

    I am South African and we say Maths in English. (A country with 11 official language in which “Maths” is plural is all 11 languages.) I find the American English and British English debate amusing, but even more so is to hear/see a weird word like MATH. To my ears it just sounds wrong and looks like a typo.

  • Azzaron

    Its funny how you say that the term “maths” is growing in popularity and that it disturbs you. In Australia the term “math” is growing in popularity and, like you, I am disturbed by it.

    Honestly, does it really matter? O.o

  • VortexCortex

    I use the term “algorithms” instead:
    “Why don’t you perform the algorithms?”

    Alternatively: “Compute it.”
    (Same number of syllables as “Do the maths” with less glyphs)

    I’m a programmer, so please also excuse my evolved usage of punctuation to convey more meaning :-)

  • Nonie

    I’m just entertained by the reverse plural “sport” (UK) vs. “sports” (USA).

    So. We Yanks have math and sports; youse guys got maths and sport. Go figure.

    (Actually, I’ve only heard that usage of “sport” for one’s school athletic classes – “I have sport after lunch.” Are adult athletic competitions like footie matches still “sport,” or are they “sports” as in the US?)

    –Nonie

  • Maths Teacher

    If you are a ‘math’ teacher, logically you must be a teacher of ‘mathematic’. If you are a ‘maths’ teacher, logically you must be a teacher of ‘mathematics’.Simple really.

    • Jon

      You’re applying a rule regarding plurals to a word which is ambiguous at best on its plurality outside of context. When one says “Mathematics is the only truly universal language.”, it is obviously singular, and therefore by your own rule, should be shortened to ‘Math’ the same way we would shorten any other word ending in -s that is singular (say, ‘calculus’ shortened to ‘calc’).

      And yet even here in America, where we are (mostly) so vehemently against the word ‘Maths’, we break our own rule: Ask the majority of non-math(s) majors what their least favorite math(s) classes were, and somewhere on that list you’ll hear them mention ‘Statistics’ – which we commonly shorten to ‘Stats’. I find that interesting.

      I think it simply comes down to common regional usage, and nothing more.

      • Coren

        True, but consider this, John – you can have a single statistic, and it is a stat. Multiple ones are statistics – so it’s not the field, per se, which is observing an odd rule so much as it is the field following the word which it is made up of.

        Also, stats is the worst math class I also took.

    • Kathy

      You must be from England. Pull out your English book, and you will probably find the answer you prefer. And I can guarantee you that my American English book will have the answer that I prefer.

      There is a difference between British English and American English. Period.

      Respect the differences.

      • TheFOX

        Regardless, we shouldn’t go to war over it. The (sometimes) United States won the right to decide our choices in spelling, pronunciation, and grammatical nuances well over two hundred years ago and re-enforced it almost exactly twenty decades ago. Many of the most noticeable differences were deliberate changes made at that time for the express purpose of a distinct separation. I believe that changes have continued to produce a language with concise linguistic meaning(s).

  • Scott M

    I am an American living in India. People here say maths and maths does sound funny to my ears.

    My comment is really a different way to look at it. As an expat who has to speak Hindi and English I’ve really come to appreciate that language only has meaning as it is commonly understood. Here in a hospital you’ll be asked “Is it paining?” whereas in America (or in England?) pain is never used this way. I could try to correct every hospital in India or I could realize that here this is the correct “English” way to say it here.

    Learning how to communicate properly to the people you are among is the goal. So go ahead and add the other variation to your English vocal. Adjust your ears (and I will as well) to hear the millions of people who use the one you think sounds funny.

    • Kathy

      Well said.

      By the way, it is nice to hear that so many other people care about
      grammar.

      Today, it’s the cool thing to mumble and butcher the English language.

  • MathsMathMatt

    Trig in 10th grade? Either you’re young or you should give up the writing gig and get into mathematics some more. Back in my day, 10th grade was when Geometry was standard. You would then take Algrebra II in the 11th grade. Trig wasn’t until 12th grade, which you took alongside Probability and Statistic, both the first semester. Most people then stopped, but Calculus was available before you graduated to those who cared a little more about mathematics. I now nowadays they moved everything down a year or two. I took Trig along with prob/stats in my junior year, and that was only because I tested out of 8th grade math and took Algebra I a year earlier than my school’s traditional format. And I thought I was doing it earlier! *lol*

    • Drake

      Trigonometry is a subdivision of Geometry, specifically the geometry of triangles. So yes, in most 10th grade geometry classes, students are taught the basics of trigonometry.

  • Kinell

    There is English, a standardised and ever evolving language and lexicon. And there is USAmerican English, the bastardized form of English.

    English in India/Pakistan/Bangledesh/Phillipines/Burma/Nigeria/Palestine etc, etc .. falls into the latter catergory.

  • Kaleb

    (1) If one comprehends what another means when he/she says either “math” or “maths”, does it really matter?
    (2) Both “math” and “maths” are colloquialisms, which are typically defined regionally, and hence, both are correct based on their region of usage. Additionally, this means that one should never write either in formal writing and should always use “mathematics” instead.

    According to Wolfram MathWorld (among a few other references but they say it more concisely), “The term ‘mathematics’ is often shortened to ‘math’ in informal American speech and ‘maths’ in British English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘math’ has been in usage in London and the United States since 1890. The first usage of ‘maths’ first occurred as a colloquialism 21 years later.”

  • James

    We don’t say thks, we say thanks, you cant just cut out the middle of the word and say maths, you would say math. If you are keeping the “s” because its in the word mathematics, then that would not work. However, if you are keeping it because there are many different subjects that fall under math, then I would agree, it is maths.

  • King

    If it is ‘Math’ then why don’t the American’s use ‘Physic’ instead of ‘Physics’. American English is just a ruined form of the original language , its from ENGLAND so no one has the authority to change the grammar except for the think-tank’s who are English.

    • Dan

      So I guess in England it’s proper to use ‘s to indicate the plural form of nouns.
      But more importantly your premise is flawed. Neither physics nor mathematics are plural. Have you ever heard “physics are hard” spoke or written by anyone claiming the usage is proper?

      • Paige

        “Maths” is just another pompous British word. It certainly does not roll off the tongue to move from alveolar ridge to the teeth with two voiceless consonants. Also Dan, yes, they often do use ‘s to indicate a plural as they can’t understand the difference in usage.

    • Drake

      Your argument makes no sense. We are talking about the abbreviation of “Mathematics” to “Math(s)”. “Physics” is not, nor has, an abbreviation.

    • Kathy

      King:

      You are joining a discussion about grammar but can’t spell correctly?

      The English language is a combination of other languages. England did NOT invent it. I suggest you do a bit of research.

      And since I live in America, I speak American English which evolved from British English which evolved from other languages. Therefore, America does not need England’s permission to change the language.

      By the way, “Mr. Think Tank,” some corrections to your post. It’s (for it is) from England, and Think Tanks (s for plural) not Think Tank’s (no need for apostrophe).

  • Haley

    Maths is, of course, what I use. I go with British/New Zealand because I hate everything about the States, they just brainwash people and countries such as Korea and Japan!!! I hate that Black Obama, he drives me crazy. They simplify the English words into their own without some words, like the weird Simplified Chinese. Maths is the right one!!!

  • Did any one else notice: “we say “My favorite subject is mathematics,” not “… are mathematics.”? Sorry but the use of singular here is nothing to do with whether or not Mathematics is singular or plural, “is” refers to “subject”, not “mathematics”. Just a little detail, but ow so important

    • Stephen

      Surely “favourite”?

      • Kathy

        Favourite is British English. Favorite is American English.

        Colour is British English. Color is American English.

        Most languages INCLUDING British English evolved from other languages. It would be pretentious for an American to speak British English unless he/she is living in Great Britain or was raised there.

        It is pompous for the British to say that Americans are incorrectly speaking the English language because it is not British English. Language evolves. Even British English has evolved from its original state.

        In 100 years, British English and America English will have further changes. The language is standardized, but always subject to change with the times.

        Many times, a new word is invented or inserted into the dictionary because so many people get it wrong that it is changed to appease the masses.

  • This is a really brilliant piece, the information within which I was completely unaware. Being schooled in the UK I became accustomed to ‘maths’ but having read this interesting article can see this to be technically incorrect. However, I’m not so sure I’d get away with using ‘math’ in the UK as this would require continuous explanation!

  • Joe

    Numerical arts? Mathematics is not about numbers and equations. Unfortunately, you still have not the slightest clue as to what mathematics is all about.

  • Kevin

    Enough of the English snobbery on the language. Better do your studying before you decry American English as some kind of poor gutter cousin. You see, there is much evidence which any lanuage scholar either side of the pond will confirm, that when the American Colonies broke off from the mother country, it actually retained a more conservative form of English. It was the Brits with their French affectation, who started spelling verbs with -ise instead of -ize; started using autumn instead of fall, decided “forgotten” was a gross Americanization when it was authentic 17th century English. Some words found in Chaucer, are still alive and kickin’ in North American English but no longer in British English. Australia, New Zealand, must understand – we (the US) are like the older sister who left home but can remember things from the family you can’t – because you weren’t born yet.

  • Hans

    ‘Word detective’ my backside. So I suppose it’s correct to abbreviate statistics to ‘stat’? You have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • David

    Unfortunately, as we are not french, we cannot insist on English being spoken in the manner prescribed by the English. Maths is correct, as this is determined by English speakers. The pattern of specatacles/specs, statistics/stats has been put forward, but this does not help. My statistics are flawed, my spectacles are broken, but my mathematics is flawed or my mathematics are incorrect? Liverpool ia the best football team or Liverpool are the best team… dicuss…

  • estebanrey

    The people saying that Mathematics isn’t plural because you prefix it with “is” rather than “are” have a fair point but what about this sentence…

    “2 plus 2 is four, to work that out we used mathematics”

    Perfectly correct yes? But surely if it’s singular you would say “we used a mathematics” wouldn’t you? Like you would say “I used a baseball bat” as opposed to “I used baseball bats”.

    • But by that logic, ‘trigonometry’ (for example) must be plural as well, because you would say ‘to work that out I used trigonometry’. Right?
      Thing is, in a sentence like this, what you imply is something like ‘I used *the system of* mathematics/trigonometry/etc.’ – hence there’s no need for ‘a’ nor for singular/plural.
      Like was already pointed out, ‘mathematics’ works the same way as ‘physics’ or ‘politics’, as a word in a plural form that can be used as a singular (‘physics is complicated’, ‘politics is a dirty game’). That’s all.
      Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with abbreviating mathematics as ‘maths’, but there’s also nothing wrong about abbreviating it as ‘math’, and like any argument about what are ultimately dialect forms, the whole argument of which is ‘more right’ seems absolutely ridiculous to me.

  • himeshi

    maths is fun but i will find some problems in maths too.but i like maths.

  • freestyler

    It’s a plural noun. Maths is the correct abbreviation. Sorry Americans you have got it wrong. Again. A bit like your pronunciations of all things herbal. Like oregano (not oreg-gano), basil (not bay-sil) and the word herb itself (not erb, it has an ‘h’ at the beginning). Try harder. 2/10.
    PS Garage is another one. It’s garage not gararge. The clue is in the spelling.

    • Kathy

      Man, you Brits think you invented the English language. Well, do some research and you will find out that your British English evolved from other languages.

      Mathematics and math are collective nouns. And there are differences in the way British English and American English treat collective nouns.

  • CAKarl

    I wonder what the speakers of Olde English would have to say about Contemporary English?

    Let’s face the truth here; a pure, ‘modern’ language does not exist. Each has been influenced by generations of interaction with other cultures and languages. Let’s not beat each other up over correct and incorrect.

  • Kate

    Just came straight form a youtube comments debate on this topic.

    It’s just a matter of what feels right to you and your audience – which is probably going to be based on the version of English you grew up with, and where you and your audience are. Spelling is not about logic – so don’t try about logical about this. Especially arguing about whose right in thier spelling of words like “colour/color” or “pour” and so on – that’s just a pointless exercise.

    I’m Australian, and studied for a year at uni in Vancouver. “Maths” feels smoother and easier to say to me, because I’m used to it – to say “Math” would cause people to stop and get confused. But “Math” feels right to my Canadian friends, so I adopted it while over there, and it probably would be easier to pronounce for those for whom English is a second language (it’s already hard enough to say “th” and “s” seperately for a lot of people, let alone together).

    This article complains that the use of “Maths” in America by Americans is a case of “spreading” “Anglophiliac posturing”. Maybe it’s just that we live in an increasingly globalised world where English is becoming increasingly homogenised across national borders (as I write this my browser keeps trying to “correct” my use of s instead of z in these words, by the way). In my university in Australia we used to get marked down on having American spelling in our essays – a result of using Microsoft-Word’s spell checker (before they got around to having an Australian spell checker). Now my lecturers have given up, and it’s an either-or situation. Don’t complain about what the rest of the world has been grappling with for years. Accept it and move on.

  • Xavier

    Math = one equation/question. e.g: I am doing a math question

    The subject Mathematics consisting of more than one equation e.g: i have to do my maths home work or i have maths question.

    You would not say I have a Math degree because that would mean you studied one question you would say you have a Maths degree because you have studied more than one type and more than one equation of Maths

    It is a plural and we mostly use it as a plural. It is not very often you are going to have to do only one thing to do with Maths you will most likely do a sires of things do do with it.

    So it’s Maths

    • Kathy

      Your logic is flawed because you are forgetting that mathematics AND math are collective nouns. You would say mathematics class or mathematics classes. You would say math question or math questions. The word after math is what changes.

      Frankly, we have a lot of people on here using faulty logic and arguing in a subject in which they are clearly uneducated.

      What is correct in England may not be correct here. America has an accepted set of rules just as England does. To argue that we are wrong is disrespectful.

      I could show you in our college textbooks the proper answer and some of you would STILL argue.

    • Kathy

      Math/Mathematics = A subject spanning various types of math (trigonometry, calculus, algebra).

      Math/Mathematics= collective noun

      collective noun
      noun, Grammar .
      a noun, as herd, jury, or clergy, that appears singular in formal shape but denotes a group of persons or objects

    • Kathy

      I need to correct myself. While math and mathematics are collective nouns. The way you are using them makes them adjectives.

      However, that does not change the fact that math/mathematics does not mean one question or one equation. Math/mathematics is still collective meaning that the word covers many forms of math: trig, calc, etc.

      You are also incorrect applying plurals. Math does not mean one thing; math means a lot of things. What determines if math means one equation/one question or many equations/many questions is the word that follows math.

      Math question means one question (math is not the question itself but the type of question)

      Math questions (same as above but more than one question)

      The same goes for the equations. Math equation is one equation; math equations is many equations, or you can just say “math.” Can you help me with my math?

      In your sentences, math is the adjective not the noun. So, you apply the plural to the noun that follows (question/equation).

      And you would say mathematics or math degree. That does not mean you have a degree in one equation or question. Because math/mathematics is a subject that covers many forms of math. You are applying the wrong definition to the word itself and incorrectly applying plurals.

  • MarkB

    This thread is both amusing and tedious at the same time. I’m reminded of the much used quote about the Bible in English: “If it was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me!” It seems as if some poor Brits think that God Himself gave them their spelling, and any changes are blasphemy. ;-) As was pointed out in a very good Economist article – which made grown Englishmen cry – many of the complaints about ‘Americanisms’ actually have their origin in the UK, including spelling.

    Needless to say – all spelling is arbitrary. Well, I guess I did have to say it, didn’t I?

  • Tom

    I first heard somebody use the term ‘maths’ about a year ago. It sounded weird to me. It still does.

    Now I’ve read the terms ‘math’ and ‘maths’ so many times in the comments that they both sound weird to me. I think I’m just going to switch to saying ‘arithmetic’, ‘algebra’, etc.

    Something else I’d like to point out. I think it is interesting that there are only a few mathematics specializations that we abbreviate; e.g. Trigonometry (Trig), Calculus (Calc), and Statistics (Stats). At least in common usage. I have never heard somebody say, “Wait for me. I have to finish my alg homework”, though it may be abbreviated on a course listing in this way.

    • Chris

      Just got to do my Gal The (Galois Theory) that just sounds silly…

      Also if we say ‘specifications’ as ‘specs’ why not ‘mathematics’ as ‘maths’ ?

      Either way it’s up to personal choice no?

  • Lols

    Math is American, Maths is sexy.

  • Lols

    The Americans say Math because they study just one equation in Maths.

  • TheFOX

    In the novels Perry Mason would have proven you didn’t belong in gaol; on television you would have heard “jail”. I’m exhausted from this.

  • Dorayakii

    Don’t worry abou it people, it’s just another variety (or “variedy”) of English. It can be quite mutually confusing when you hear new terms from accross the Atlantic for the first time, but English doesn’t belong to anyone, it’s a language.

    I remember the first time I heard the term “visit with” as in “I’m visiting with my grandmother”. My first reaction was “where are you going together?”. I didn’t realise that it just meant that she was visiting her grandmother, not visiting someone or somewhere else *with* her grandmother. But that is the beauty of language diversity, it should open your mind to the way people think and feel.

    Another interesting one in American English is “different than”. As an Englishman, I would always say “That picture is different from that one”. I would always reserve “different than” for when “different” is a comparative adjective rather than a normal adjective. I would use it only for a comparison of the relative level of difference of two objects and a third object, eg. “That yellow circle is more different than that purple triangle from that blue triangle” (because it has two unique differences rather than one). Of course this is a much rarer usage as it is a rarer situation.

    Again, it is just the nature of diversity. Accept it.

  • Dorayakii

    So we’ve gathered that “math” sounds weird to the English, and “maths” sounds unusual to the Americans… Is that not just a difference in dialect? Why are people getting so angry and nationalistic about it?

    As an Englishman “pants” for “trousers” and “fanny” for “bum” all sounds very amusing, but then again for my American friend when we say “toilet” instead of “bathroom” (a bathroom being a room with a bath for us) it sounds quite strange too. Is that not just the variety of language? Surely we pronounce words the way we are used to pronouncing them? 

    Even within England my friend from York calls a plaster cast a “pot”, and my Scouser friend says “youse” for a plural “you”.

    An Minnesotan friend of mine once criticised me for rhyming the vowel of “roof” with “tooth” rather than with that of “tough”. I had to explain to him that that’s the way we say it in England, and I think in many parts of the USA that is also the case. There was some misunderstanding as I didn’t get what he was saying sometimes, but so what? That’s the beauty of language.

    There is not such thing as “correct” form. In fact if you went back to 17th century English you would find that all forms of English, including English in England, have strayed from the “original” form. In fact if you think we should all speak “original” English we would all go back to speaking the Anglo-Saxon of Beowulf. The mere thought is ridiculous. 

    We all have neologisms that annoy us. I hate when certain Americans say “if I would have seen him I would have told him”, but that is just a personal preference, and no matter how much it grates, I have no right to dictate to people how they should speak.

    English doesn’t belong only to the English, it belongs to all who speak it. The only things that belong to you are the words that you yourself utter. If you do want to go down that road, then the residents of  Schleswig-Holstein and Angeln would be berating the entire anglophone world for “corrupting” their pure tongue.

    Chill out and accept the diversity which is inherent in language. No one is stopping the English from saying “maths” and nobody is preventing the Americans from saying “math”. Both have logical reasons for their existence, language is not an exact science. 

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