Math or Maths?

By Simon Kewin

Is “math” or “maths” the correct word to use as the shortened or colloquial form of the word mathematics? The answer is that it depends on where you are.

To North American speakers of English, the word to use is “math”, as in “I majored in math”, and “maths” would sound wrong. Speakers of British English, however, would always say “maths”, as in “I took a degree in maths”. They would never say “math”.

There are logical arguments for both spellings. The word “mathematics” can be considered as a singular and as a plural noun. Both the Oxford and the Merriam-Webster dictionaries say the word is plural – hence the s on the end – but also that it is usually used as if it was a singular noun. So, most people would say “mathematics is my best subject” and not “mathematics are my best subject”. The shortened form “maths”, then, makes sense because the word is still a plural noun and so should still have the “s” on the end. On the other hand, it could be argued, “math” makes sense because it seems wrong to remove the letters “ematic” from the middle of the word and leave the final “s”.

There are a number of other plural nouns that are used as if they were singular – for example economics, ethics, politics, gymnastics, measles and dominoes. These words, however, are not habitually shortened, making math/maths rather an unusual word.

It’s sometimes surprising how much argument and disagreement small differences such as that single letter can make. Readers in the UK, for example, sometimes get very upset if someone writes “math” rather than “maths”. No doubt the reverse is true in the US. In practice, it’s simply worth being aware of the geographical differences so that you can use the correct form of the word in your writing.

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106 Responses to “Math or Maths?”

  • Sumesh

    Being brought up in British English, I always found it a bit weird that some said Math and some said Maths.

    I’ve personally used Maths mostly, but now that I know the difference, I think it is wise to omit the ‘s’, considering, that I write mostly for an American audience (likely applies to most of us).

  • Cecily

    @Sumesh: Do you always capitalise “maths” or did you just do so to make it stand out?

    @Maeve: I don’t think “dominoes” quite fits with the examples; it is either resolutely singular or resolutely plural, but not both at the same time:

    Dominoes as a singular noun refers to the whole game, e.g. “I want to play dominoes, but I can’t find it“.

    It is also a plural noun that refers to more than one piece of that game, e.g. “Have any dominoes fallen under your chair?”

    Finally, there is a pizza context, “Let’s get a Domino’s” (although that’s not something I would ever suggest).

  • Maeve

    Your countryman Simon Kewin is the author of this post.

  • Simon Kewin


    I take your point – but when you say “dominoes is a fine game”, isn’t that a plural noun being used as a singular one?

  • Sherry

    Until I subbed a story for critting, I had no idea Americans used the term ‘math’ for mathmatics. As a Scot I’ve always known it as ‘maths’.
    It’s like a ‘car park’ in the UK is a ‘parking garage’ in the States.

  • Stephen Thorn

    I first learned about “maths” from the British comedian Benny Hill. He had a poem to be read in acting class; said poem was to be written exactly as written…on a very old typewriter…on which the letter “H” was missing. Consequently the poem was “Fait , ope, and C arity” by Walter Winc ell, Professor of Czec eslovakian P ilosophy and Mat s. From his use of the word “maths” I deduced it was another of those odd differences between the two sister languages.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Pardon me — mea culpa. I should have written “said poem was to be READ exactly as written”.

  • Chris

    Would It be more accurate to distinguish it as ‘Math’ being the term in North American English (Canadian and US) and ‘Maths’ being the term in non-American English.

    With all respect, Australian, NZ, South African, and other speakers of English who aren’t British also use “Maths”….

    Apologies for being pedantic 🙂

  • Simon Kewin


    Yes, as I understand it that’s a pretty good summary.

  • Herb

    Sumesh on July 14, 2010 11:13 am says she writes
    ” mostly for an American audience”.

    Actually, she writes for an American readership.

  • dj

    I believe you are correct in assuming that Americans, on the whole, prefer math over maths. I am Canadian, however, and can attest to the fact that some of us prefer the latter. I make a point to do so, as do several of my friends from British Columbia. Though I grew up taking MATH classes, I decided to change my habit when I realised many of my French Canadian friends (I am a Montrealer) would use the more British MATHS. As I tend to look to French as a first resort to solving problems with English usage (the reason I favour THEATRE over the americanised THEATER, for example) I have since made the effort to change my usage.

  • Chris

    This seems very strange to me. I am British (born and brought up in England) and I did a degree in Mathematics.

    For me, it has always been “math”, and I recollect this was also the case with most of my friends on the course. It was a bit like a shibboleth – when we encountered someone calling it “maths”, it was a reasonable guess that they weren’t studying mathematics. Note that this was in the late 70’s, way before the major cultural influence of american TV.

    I am not saying either is right or wrong, merely pointing out that any attempt to say “in Britain we say….” is bound to come up with exceptions. It is a small country, but very varied in language.

  • rod sexton

    As The English language originated in England then the correct use is ‘maths’; just because the Americans want to be different does not mean we have to follow.

  • Simon Kewin


    I disagree with you on so many levels. But for one, I don’t at all see how “The (sic) English language originated in England”.

  • Adam


    Rod stated ‘The English language originated in England’. While this may be technically wrong due to Roman, Norman, Saxon and other external influences, the English language, as spoken today by The Queen, could be described as ‘Originating from England’.

    Further more, North America was initially populate by English (discovery and invasion aside), hence the war against England for Independence.

    Math is just one of numerous examples on how Americans altered the English language to suit themselves, color being another typical example.

    This may have been a concious decision by the British ex-pats or simply a development of the language as also happened in Britain, the two strains of the English language wondering off on different courses.

    So, Math or Maths?

    If you were to accept that American English is a deviated form of traditional English then it would be fair to conclude that ‘Math’ is colloquialism and technical incorrect. If you don’t accept this argument then the only conclusion could be that American English is actually a different language and ‘Math’ is correct for that language.

  • Love ya

    I’m from the Caribbean the British west indies really. So I say Maths and my girl friend who is American always gets upset when I say I had to look this up since she insists that I am wrong. I had a feeling it had to do with this but now I’m positive thanks.

  • graham

    “Math” sounds weird. Thank God for the atlantic ocean.

  • Jack Weyler

    Even this is a but pedantic for this thread.

    on July 14, 2010 11:13 am says she writes
    ” mostly for an American audience”.
    Actually, she writes for an American readership.
    dj on October 25, 2010 3:31 am

  • Travis

    99% sure it’s math and mathmatics/maths. Maths in place of math makes it sound plural…

    Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change.

    Wouldn’t it be right to say:
    There are four maths a person can master.
    Each math has it’s own specialized rules.
    Do you excel in mathematics?

    When you put an “s” on something… it sounds like this to me:
    I have two computers.
    I have one computers.

  • no name

    Maths Mathematics Math…

  • Adam M O’Neill

    I don’t often agree with North American spelling but I have to agree with them on “math” over “maths”, although that would only apply for “math” as a synonym for “calculations”. As an abbreviation of “mathematics” I would still go for “maths”.

  • Shane


    “If you were to accept that American English is a deviated form of traditional English…”

    As is British English. The American dialect of English and the British dialect of the same are both divergent strains of the mother tongue, which would be Elizabethan-Georgian English. The notion that just because the modern British form of English is more correct or authentic than the American form of English, simply due to the happenstance that it is the form that evolved in the same geographical location as the mother tongue, is frankly tiresome. At best it can be said to be the result of bias inevitably directed towards one’s homeland, or else a lack of contemplation. At worst, it can be said to be a form of racism or cultural snobbishness.


    “So, Math or Maths?

    If you were to accept that American English is a deviated form of traditional English then it would be fair to conclude that ‘Math’ is colloquialism and technical incorrect. ”

    Really? “Maths” isn’t a colloquialism, but “Math” is? I was under the impression that both were colloquial, and “Mathematics” is the technical term.


    I, an American, often use the British forms of words, in writing or speech, because I find them to be more euphonious than their American counterparts. However, this is not universal. There are a great many Britishisms which I find unpleasing, so I do not use them. To each their own, but please give me none of this nonsense about authenticity.

  • Maths Man

    @Shane – no doubt we are all clouded by personal bias.

    Would you ever say ‘physic’ instead of physics? To my mind it’s about the concept. And ‘math’ loses meaning for me. It constrains the idea by making it singular. Yet mathematics is about reasoning, it’s not a ‘thing’.

    Still, at least we know where each other is heading when we say math or maths in conversation. I must’ve been fourteen before I realised that “aloominum” was aluminium.

  • Rob

    Physic/physics isn’t a fair comparison. After all, the issue isn’t mathematic/mathematics. I also don’t see much point in using other words for comparison (economics, gymnastics, politics) because when *those* words are abbreviated, how many retain the ‘s’? econs? polis? gyms? (when referencing gymnastics, not buildings known as gymnasiums). I don’t think any of them would retain the ‘s’ when they’re abbreviated, and neither should mathematics.

    But then the rules for english are mostly inconsistent nonsense anyway so why bother pretending one is more right than the other? 😉

  • thewizard

    The author’s argument that the truncated “math” should have an “s” at the end because it’s plural is a terrible one. Should moose have an s at the end as well? How about fungus?

    “Math” is short for “Mathematics.” “Maths” would seem to be short for “Mathematicss.” Anyone with so limited a perspective that plural words must, by definition, end in the letter S in order to make sense needs to reevaluate their position.

  • Simon Kewin

    And yet, thewizard, every person in the UK (and elsewhere) would say “maths” and not “math”. Do we all need to reevaluate our positions?

    Moose isn’t an abbreviation. Neither is fungus (and, erm, it does have an ‘s’ at the end). I don’t follow your argument there. Perhaps you mean “fungi”? I don’t say anywhere that plurals should end in an “s”. Obviously that would be ridiculous. But the word mathematics does end in an s.

    Should an abbreviation of a plural with an “s” keep the “s”? Debatable. I’m not saying ‘”math” “should” have an “s” at the end’ : I’m clearly saying there is a difference between the US and the UK and that there are justifications for either approach.

    I won’t be reevaluating my position, sorry.

  • timlash

    Sorry, but you can’t study maths unless you’re prepared to study econs. Economics is the perfect analogy and nobody uses econs. Maths must go to foster consistency. Unfortunately, a casual reading of the interweb leads me to believe that maths is gaining ground at an alarming rate. I call on my fellow Americans to resist this most recent and dastardly British invasion!

  • Simon Kewin

    Yes, but you don’t say “Econ” do you? Perhaps you do but here in the UK, I’ve never heard anyone say “Econ” or “Econs”.

  • Joachim

    Math or Maths it doesn’t matter haha..I still love Mathematics

  • Damian

    Thank you all for the discussion and the rebutles, as you can tell I am no English student or scholar but at least I know now why both spellings can be used.

  • Grace

    Economics is shortened to Econ. just saying…

    to be honest its actually not that big a deal. its a letter.

  • Christian


    Further more, North America was initially populate by English (discovery and invasion aside), hence the war against England for Independence.

    How wonderfully British of you to suggest such a fallacy about the “discovery” and population of North America.

    I work with mathematical equations, therefore I am doing math. Not that I am working with mathematicals or mathematicsal equations. Also, it shouldn’t be that I am good at mathematics (math – being that I am an unruly American), because this seems to imply that you are good at all areas of mathematics/math. I would much rather see someone describe themselves as being good at algebra, or geometry, or even calculus.

    Regardless, this is nothing more than a regional language difference.

  • Greg

    @Simon Kewin
    “Yes, but you don’t say “Econ” do you?”

    Yes, it’s common for high school and college classes of Civics and Economics to be referred to in the states as “Civics and Econ” (pronounced EEE-kahn). I suspect that’s why @timlash mentioned that.

    I tend to agree with many others though – this is just another of many regional preferences. You’ll never catch me calling a truck a lorry or a shopping cart a buggy, but that’s ok and it just means we’ve all customized the language we speak to suit our needs. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s how language evolves.

  • JB

    Actually, Simon, in the US it’s very common to say that you majored in “Econ”, similar to saying you majored in “Math”. I suppose it doesn’t work as an argument, however, if it’s not used that way in the UK!

  • Racecar

    In Singapore, we are supposed to follow British English so we say Maths.

    We also say Econs to mean Economics.

    Eg: He’s majoring in Econs.

  • Ian Mills

    To Chris, your comment about “non-American English”… what does this mean?! Actually I know what it means, I understand your point, it just grates on me that our fine English language has gotten so messed up. Still, 350million Americans agree with you, I’ll do the math.
    Can I get a woop-woop (with cream, sprinkles, and a candy bar)?

    Ian, from England.

  • Michaela

    The author says:

    “On the other hand, it could be argued, “math” makes sense because it seems wrong to remove the letters “ematic” from the middle of the word and leave the final “s” ”

    Really? I’m fairly sure that when an s plural is abbreviated, it makes complete sense to include that final s to show it is a plural.

    Examples of plural abbreviations without the s:

    We all rode our bike. I like croc (i’m from down under!). I wrote my entire essay in cap. I like to drink in pub.

    Make sense? The nonsensical effect of those sentences is how ‘math’ sounds to us.


    “The author’s argument that the truncated “math” should have an “s” at the end because it’s plural is a terrible one. Should moose have an s at the end as well? How about fungus?
    “Math” is short for “Mathematics.” “Maths” would seem to be short for “Mathematicss.” Anyone with so limited a perspective that plural words must, by definition, end in the letter S in order to make sense needs to reevaluate their position.”

    This is a bizarre conclusion to come to – Nobody is saying that plural words have to end in s, but that those that do, when abbreviated, should keep that s to show they are plural (see above examples). As for the rest of your statement, Simon Kewan covered that one for me!

    @ Travis:

    “Wouldn’t it be right to say:
    There are four maths a person can master.
    Each math has it’s own specialized rules.
    Do you excel in mathematics?”

    The word mathematic does not exist. Mathematics is a plural word but is also used for the singular. The use of math in your example makes sense as an abbreviation of mathematics as a singular term. However, were you to abbreviate the last ‘mathematics’ in your statement to math, you would render the previous use of the singular ‘math’, indistinguishable.

    But this is how most North Americans do abbreviate the word. They do not reserve it solely for examples like yours but use it across the board (we rarely see ‘mathematics’ used at all). So as a rule, although the word mathematics is used as a singular, it is a plural word and except when able to in specific examples like this one, it is correct to keep the plural s in play.


    “If you were to accept that American English is a deviated form of traditional English then it would be fair to conclude that ‘Math’ is colloquialism and technical incorrect. If you don’t accept this argument then the only conclusion could be that American English is actually a different language and ‘Math’ is correct for that language.”

    Yes, these are two viable scenarios. And whichever is the case, I can accept the North Americans use of ‘math’ (However wrong it sounds to my ears!). What I can’t accept is anyone trying to argue AGAINST ‘maths’ as correct usage.

  • Patrick

    I came to this page as a result of watching a British TV show I like (I’m an American) where one character kept saying “You do the math!” and his roommate would reply “Sss! Maths!” So it appears there isn’t universal consensus even among the Brits. However, I think you’d be hard pressed to find an American who calls it “maths”.
    Language is a living thing; words are created, definitions reassigned, and words fade into disuse, and become archaic. Modern British English is no more akin to Early English than American English is, and ultimately who cares? I personally delight in the differences. I like that my English friend Ed says he’s knackered when he’s tired, and he enjoys my use of the slang “spendy” when something is expensive. To suggest that one branch of modern English is superior to another completely misses the point of how wonderfully dynamic language is, and frankly makes one sound like a pompous ass who no one would care to speak with, on either side of the pond.

  • Limskj

    I had a look here because my dad insists that I am wrong. I actually find the pronunciation of maths as ‘mats’ really wierd and I, as a consequence, use Math instead. And I am from Singapore.

  • Mark

    Yes Patrick, I agree with you that English is a living language, that constantly changes, no other language does that. That is why I love it so much. You only have to watch shows like the story of English to be fascinated by the way the language has changed over 1000’s of years.
    You just have to look at all the new words that come into being all the time, making the journey from slang to “official” words, it happens all the time.
    But in my opinion, American English is trying its best to put an end to that. By differentiating itself from the main branch of the English language, it tries to be something unique separate from the English spoken by so many people in the world. America Decides how a word should be spelt and how it should be pronounced and does it’s best to force that spelling on the rest. New learners of English don’t use an English Dictionary they use an American English Dictionary.
    To me this goes against the true meaning of English. It splits the language into two languages, one that adapts as it always does, taking words from one group and integrating them into the common language, that is why we have French, Indian, Chinese, etc in the language. The other isolates itself, accepting no new words from out of the US but forcing its words and spelling on all others.
    We lovers of English embrace new words for all places. The US has provided so many new words and they now form part of the main language as they so rightly should. What we don’t agree with is the forcing of their brand of English as the “Official” English.
    That should never happen.

  • James

    I like the way people refer to British English in order to avoid the more obvious term, “English English”. By referring to British English it makes it appear that it is just another of the group of English language variants whereas English English would suggest, accurately, that it had been the mother of them all (albeit that it too has changed with time). It’s seems like a sort of political correctness applied to language.

  • venqax

    @James: But that’s not true. English English is quite separable from Scottish English, Welsh English, etc. British English refers to the “standard” recognized in all of Britain– as if there is one– not just in some part of England. The English spoken in England today has no more claim on “seniority” than any other dialect does. There have been a whole lot of Y’s in the genetic tree of English, and what is spoken in England today is no more directly descended from what was spoken in England 500 years ago than is the English spoken now in Des Moines, Iowa or Brisbane, Australia. I know it’s hard to let go of certain notions, especially with so few left…

  • Dave

    “English English” also just sounds confusing. “British English” has a more obvious meaning.
    For what it’s worth, by the way, my 1956 Merriam-Webster dictionary refers to “British usage,” so that distinction well predates the era of political correctness.

  • futplex

    “Math” seems like an abbreviation for the WORD mathematics while “maths” seems an abbreviation for the CONCEPT of mathematics.

    There are no universally applicable rules for abbreviations. They are part of informal speech for which the only rule that counts is whether it “sounds right” at the time. Any attempt to assign a logical rule to abbreviations is going to be incorrect, or riddled with hundreds of exceptions.

    To many American ears “maths” sounds ridiculous and to many British ears “math” sounds ridiculous. Not for logical reasons so much as one or the other “sounds right.”

    As for American English being more prescriptive than other variants, there is no real basis for this belief. Do the other global English speakers not have dictionaries? On the contrary, the American language is extremely heavily influenced by many generations of immigrants. Did anyone say “all right already” (and a multitude of other such expressions so widely spread by 100 years of entertainment media that tens of millions of Anglo-Saxon descendants use them daily without any thought) before that third generation of German-Jewish New Yorkers? This tradition is no different today than at any other time. The British variety is more globally distributed but I am hard put to think of any similar way that British English has been influenced to the degree that American English has been changed by 200 years of newcomers to the US.

    In fact, it sounds more to me like the British variety was described above as the “correct” version of the language, if we agree that American English is differentiated “from the main branch of the English language”.

  • venqax

    I think this is very obvious and straightforward. Math is American, maths must be British. I’ve certainly never heard it EVER in America. So, again I must ask as I have with other supposedly vexing issues (e.g., programme vs. program, defense/defence, practice/practise) WHO exactly, is asking this question? I don’t know of any American who would see “maths” as anything but a typo. I would assume Brits are just as familiar with their own language. Am I wrong? Is it commonwealthers who have this trouble? It seems to me like asking, “Is the chief of state the President or the Queen?”. Well, it depends on what state you’re talking about, obviously. Who would be confused by this? Don’t get it.

  • Meg

    Here in Ireland we say ‘Maths’ too. Also, in French, what we call Maths is called ‘Les Maths’; obviously the s is silent, but it’s abbreviated to a plural (from ‘Les mathématiques’ I believe). Just to add that it’s not a phenomenon restricted to “British English”.

    “Maths” makes sense to me because abbreviating a plural to a singular doesn’t fit. Mathematics, though treated as a singular, isn’t referring to just one ‘thing’. The concept of Mathematics is broad and encompasses many different sub-disciplines, like Trigonometry, Statistics, Algebra etc (note that they’re all singular…). We don’t call it ‘Mathematic’ (As a noun; as an adjective it certainly is still “mathematic” or “mathematical”), so in my mind shortening it to ‘Math’ doesn’t make sense. If that paragraph in it’s self males any sense!

    To be honest, I don’t really mind Americans saying ‘Math’; it’s when Irish people say ‘Math’ that it bothers me. It sounds unnatural and very ‘American’ in a forced way. It grates on my nerves.

  • Meg

    Sorry, obviously Statistics isnt singular – but it’s abbreviated to ‘Stats’ nonetheless! 🙂

  • Dr. Paul Morton-Thurle

    I have carefully read through all the preceeding comments and all have their pros and cons. English is a living language and it is totally true to say it has moved from its German roots, with the interspertion of French Norman and Latin. However, it is The English language. Here in the UK we detest the use of American for peoples ( I use the plural as there are many races there ) within the US. What of the many other countries with the continent of America. Do they not count anymore. I digress though. To call a diverged language a sister language is an insult. The US has always strove to change history, ie, milliard now a billion, they won the war etc and surely this is surely them simply trying to put their stamp onto a borrowed language and calling it their own.

  • coren

    @Michaela – bad examples, as bike, croc, and pub are all singular shortenings of singular words – bicycle, crocodile, public house – just as bikes, crocs, and pubs are bicycles, crocodiles, and public houses. Never have I ever seen Mathematics used in a singular fashion. So the argument doesn’t stand, as we’re talking about whether to shorten a word that only exists as a plural to a singular or a plural.

    @Meg – of course, you can also have a single statistic – which would be a stat. 😉

    @All – Can anyone think of words that only exist as plurals which then get abbreviated – either as a singular or plural word? Just curious if there’s any precedent.

  • Simon Kewin

    Dr. Paul Morton-Thurle,

    Quite a lot I’d disagree with you on there. “Here in the UK we detest the use of American for peoples … within the US” – do we? News to me.

    “borrowed language” – I’m afraid I don’t even know what that means.

    I diagree with your main point too. All cultures naturally evolve their own language or linguistic variant. That happens within countries as well as between them. How is that an “insult”? Here in the UK we’ve used billion in the “American” sense for nearly forty years now …

  • george

    It is “maths”. English is the language and the mother country.

  • ClintZA

    A fairly old discussion which made for interesting reading. I too, as a South African, have found myself pondering whether to use Math or Maths. We usually follow British English but in this instance I’m still uncertain.

    I did find the discussion of the abbreviation of the word Economics interesting. Here in South Africa we abbreviate it as Ecos (Ee-co-s) and not Econ or Econs. In saying that I used to list Stats and Ecos as two of my courses so I should, by all accounts refer to Maths. But then what when I am referring to someone doing a calculation and not the subject? Not as clear cut as I’d like 🙂

  • andrei

    As a neutral (english is not my mother tongue) I’d say that math definitely sounds better. If graham thinks that “math” sounds weird I find it’s opposite. In my view if you want to use an acronym it should definitely be “math”.

  • venqax

    @Simon Kewin: I am glad to hear that the UK doesn’t detest Americans being called Americans (what else would you call them? Other countries count– to varying degrees—but they have unique names of their own), and agree with you re the rest.

    Abbreviations don’t follow many rules. In the US its math, and econ, no S’s.

    @coren: You’ve never seen mathematics used in a singular fashion? Really? You don’t say “mathematics is a difficult subject”? Interesting. In the US it is only used in the singular. No one in the US would say, “mathematics are a difficult class”. Likewise any other -ics—economics is, statistics is a class and a subject, but statistics are are hard often surprising. Maybe that is why in American it is always math, econ, and stats. Personally, I hate the singular “statistic” meaning a single piece of information. You wouldn’t call a single equation “a mathematic” or and economics issue “an economic”. When did a datum (where is THAT word when you need it) become “a statistic”? Maybe it happened when an individual soldier became a troop.

    @george: Wake up, awaken, or awake. It’s soon to be 2012, not 1712.

  • George

    Here in Malta (Europe) we’re brought up to say maths. Therefore to me, the word maths sounds more natural and math does not ring too much of a good bell in my ears. Of course, Malta is an ex-British colony, has extremely good ties (and mutual respect) with Britain and therefore we are very much influenced with anything British. I can’t say we regret it.

    On the other hand you would expect to have English words to be changed when the people speaking it reside in different continents. I guess, but stand to be corrected, that you would probably find similar instances in Spanish being spoken in Spain as opposed to Spanish being spoken in South America.

    As long as we all understand each other, maths or math should not be an issue….but when the meaning starts to change is another thing: Take rubber and eraser. In British English we were taught to call that thing that removes pencil from paper as rubber – go say that in North America rather than use the word eraser and you’ll get funny looks. I am told that for them rubber means condom.

  • cool math

    I think math corresponds to knowing the basic skills of mathematics.. like logic, abstraction… and maths the conglomeration of derived specializations in math, like topology, algebra, probability…

  • Nick

    Herb on September 20, 2010 9:56 pm
    Sumesh on July 14, 2010 11:13 am says she writes
    ” mostly for an American audience”.
    Actually, she writes for an American readership.

    Actually, Herb, audience is a perfectly appropriate use of the word for those whom are the targeted recipients of written information.

  • Aaron

    Well I am from the UK and I use both, if I am doing it or describing it or generalising it as a whole, I would say: I am doing Math or there is alot of Math involved, I only use maths as past tense or if I am describing it as multiple subjects e.g I did alot of maths coursework.

    I have just noticed though that upon writing Math and Maths google chrome is saying I am spelling Math wrong yet noticing Maths as correct.

  • Haly Janes

    I say Maths but all my friends say Math! I think Maths is right because I was grown up in New Zealand and that is what I was taught. But when I came to Hong Kong in this international school, everybody says Math, but the teachers say Maths! So I am not sure.

  • Basanta R Nath

    At least all People liking mathematics must have an unique word to write. I say Maths is more valuable than math.

  • Eric Minor

    To stop the debate on whose dialect is superior I want to point out that language is intended to communicate ideas and that there is no quiescent form of a language. It is correct to say something when the people you are saying it (or writing it) to understand you. How we generally understand math where I live is that, for example, algebra is a math, arithmetic is a math, calculus is a math ect. We would say “How many maths have you taken? ” and “what math are you taking?”

  • venqax

    Eric Minor: What you are addressing is an entirely different issue. The question isn’t whether different parts of math can be called maths, but whether mathematics itself is abbreviated as math or maths. You say “What math are you taking?”. Others would say, “What maths are you taking?”, meaning the same thing, “a” mathematics class or subject. You are landing on the American side of the issue whether you realize it or not. Even Americans, who ALWAYS call the subject math, might say, “How many maths have you taken?” where “maths” is an abbrevation for math classes, as you are saying, rather than the subject itself. Likewise we’d say how many histories, chemistries, and Englishes have you taken?” in that context.

  • Eric Minor

    There are no rules in English stating how words are to be abbreviated, it is done by people to shorten lengthy words. Math or maths is meant to represent mathematics. Saying math or maths is the same as saying sup to replace what is up. Many words in the dictionary are mutated forms of post words. As an example ok originally stood for orl korrekt, a jock misspelling of all correct. I am not sure if you have these words in England but I doubt you speak the language the same as when it was created. It goes back to my original argument that it is proper to write things when they are understood by the audience. If I travel to England I will attempt to match their dialect and say maths and loo but in places that say math it would be best to say math. Likewise if I travel to Germany I would speak German so the people would understand me, not argue with them that the hund is a hound. Also, not as part of my argument, but if mathematics is plural than what is a mathematic?

  • venqax

    Well, there are some rules for abbreviations but granted, they are not exhaustive or very consistently applied. The whole question is asked and answered in the topic post:
    Is “math” or “maths” the correct word to use as the shortened or colloquial form of the word mathematics? The answer is that it depends on where you are.

    Tho, more properly, the answer depends on where you are from</i). Are you speaking American Enlglish (I am, BTW)? If so, then the proper form is math; and "maths" is odd, funny, and affected-sounding. Just like saying chemistries, histories, and literatures would be when referring to those subjects. If you are speaking British English, evidently maths is the norm. Fine. This is REALLY SIMPLE. In this case, I don't think anyone one on either side of the ocean would have trouble understanding you.

    Mathematics, as we use it, is not plural. That's why we say math(ematics) IS a subject of study. Not mathematics ARE. Not all words that happen to end in an S are plural, tho that assumption does lead to many errors.

  • Daniel

    I’m English, and Maths sounds right to me because of many reasons already stated, mostly the idea that the ‘s’ on the end of the abbreviation sounds more like a plural.

    Over here at high school and sixth form level, you take a subject; for example, I am taking Further Mathematics – which is quite a broad subject including Newtonian mechanics, statistics, etc – rather than taking however many classes, so the idea of “I’ve taken 3 maths” sounds really strange.

    Further, if “I did math”, that sounds more like doing one small piece of arithmetic. Therefore it only feels right for me to hear the word sounding like a conventional plural. Evidently from the comments here, calling the subject “Maths” sounds just as wrong to Americans as hearing “Math” does to me, though.

  • John Smith

    I am English, being born in England and am also an Australian, so have dual nationality. I also teach English in China and I am appalled by the influence of all things American on the Chinese. Why do the Chinese want to speak with an American accent and be like Americans? Because it is ‘cool’. I get particularly annoyed because in my opinion, and I say in my opinion, American English is lazy and certainly not cool. It will always be ‘maths’, colour, labour, programme etc., and I will always teach my students how to pronounce words correctly.

  • Jamwhar

    My kids started to say math, and when asked to explain I couldn’t, so I just said it takes two to make a sum so it’s maths and there you go, ‘simples’ I am right and the yanks are wrong end of.

  • MarkG

    It’s not such an unusual way to shorten a plural noun. “Statistics” gets shortened to “stats”. “Spectacles” gets shortened to “specs”. “Yankees” gets shortened to “Yanks”. As an Aussie I always say “maths”, but I accept that it’s different on the other side of the pond.

  • Howell Williams

    Isn’t mathematics a collective noun? When I was at school we studied arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry. When speaking about geometry, for example, we never called it maths but used that term when talking or writing about all four subjects.

  • Auldain

    Lots of valid responses as to the semantics of the use of the words math and maths. However, no one seems to have dealt with this American misuse of the word mathematics. The Americans and now a large proportion of Britains, including surprisingly teachers, use the word math when they are clearly referring to ARITHMETIC i.e. the addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication of numbers. The word MATHMATICS (or math or maths) should only be used when speaking about algebra, trigonometry, calculus, geometry, etc. Then tonight I have listened to the BBC One Show’s item on the ability of British adults ability to count, when guess what even Aunty Beeb presenters use the word math. When will it end?

  • venqax

    John Smith:You ask and answer your own questions.

    ..I am appalled by the influence of all things American on the Chinese. Why do the Chinese want to speak with an American accent and be like Americans? Because it is ‘cool’.

    Yes. Because things American are cool. Always have been; where ya been the last 100 years? That’s why American pop culture is taking over the world, sorry. British isn’t cool. I mean, you had Keith Richards, but he lives here now. Britishness had some cachet back in the day, but it was never “cool”. And if you’re Chinese, FGS, you need all the cool help you can get. They want to be like America. Not like Britain. Who would want to be like Britain? What would that even mean? Puttering about in tiny, ugly cars and eating fried organ meats and boiled flour?

    in my opinion, American English is lazy and certainly not cool. But there you have it. You aren’t cool, so you can’t determine what is cool and what isn’t. You’re kinda stuck in mom-jeans and playing the accordion, while the cool kids are in leather jackets and playing electric guitars.

    I will always teach my students how to pronounce words correctly.

    Correctly in the UK. Not correctly in the US or wherever else. If you don’t teach them the English they’ll need—whatever it is—you’re doing them wrong out of your own misplaced pride.

  • John

    I’d like to point out the obvious, Maths has to be correct as the language it comes from is what we call English & as England is the English langauge centre of origin that has to be correct, in the same way as the Spanish spoken in south american countries has many different versions & accent to that spoken in spain.

    Also though it has to be said that as both countries, ie, USA & England have both had over the years alot of foreign influences in the languages due to large migration of imagrants it’s not surprising things change, & example, when I was growing up ‘isn’t it’ was shortend to or as we say slanged into ‘aint it’ as it’s quicker to say, where as nowadays due to large India & asian population influence, ‘aint it’ has become ‘init’ in alot of places & particularly with the young.

    I would also suggest that as the good old USA & Britain were not always the best of buddies I would imagine alot of words were changed just to make a difference between the 2 countires.

  • venqax

    No, John, sorry. What you call obvious is simply and flatly wrong. The English of England has no special claim of correctness due to the fact that the language originated there. Both American and British English have changed A LOT in 300 yrs, and in many ways it is American that has more faithfully preserved the original characteristics of 17-18th century English more than modern British has. Modern British is no older than Modern American. The 2 are now different and separate national-standards, and thereby neither has any claim of superseding the other. “Math” is correct in American English, which is not subject to the standards of British English in any way, shape, or form.

    The argument is fatuous. Why stop at dialects? Say, German is more correct than English because it is closer to the original proto-Germanic that both come from. Or Lithuanian is more correct still, because it seems to preserve something closer to original proto-Indo-European than any other IE language group does? Silly.

  • Brian

    “Maths” is a perversion of the English language brought about by low class Brits. The correct usage is and always has been “math”. The usage of “maths” was first seen in print in England in 1911, whereas “math” can be seen in works in both England and the US dating back at least to the mid 1800s. All the anti-American comments from Brits are interesting considering it was the Brits themselves that have bastardized the word, not the Americans.

    As for the argument that any usage in the US is incorrect because England is the origin of English, there are only 51,456,400 people in England. The US population is 311,591,917. You’ve been out voted.

  • Jan Key

    But the english speaking world far outnumbers the USAmerican speaking world.

  • venqax

    But the english speaking world far outnumbers the USAmerican speaking world.

    No, it doesn’t. Yet this inaccurate “factoid” keeps getting repeated. First, 2/3 of the worlds native English speaders are American. That’s 2 out of 3. The non-American English speakers all together don’t equal the number of American speakers. And second, English speakers outside the UK– or just England really– don’t speak British English. Canadian, Australian, and others have their own standards. Some of them superifially resemble British, but are really very different from it(e.g. Australian) or are actually much more similar to American (e.g. Canadian English. Even the Scottish and Welsh have their own standardized dialects. So-called “English” English is only really spoken by 50-some million people at most. Not that impressive at all considering.

  • Steven Kitchen

    ‘ because it seems wrong to remove the letters “ematic” from the middle of the word and leave the final “s”.’

    But that is the standard way of abbreviating a plural.

  • angry

    No. The word is not ‘mathematic’, it is mathematics. Therefore, the extra ‘s’ at the end is justified. I am British English. ‘Mathematic’, whilst not being a word, signifies one sum, one calculation. Most mathS is more than one calculation, for example, algebra. Stop trying to foist your warped version of the English language on the British.

  • MathsStats

    I will say math (referring to mathematics) to any American who will gladly say stat (referring to statistics) to me. I kid you not, I am ready to cut my South African English roots for that.

    After constantly having to stop for the “math vs. maths” argument when surrounded by my american friends, I’ve decided that when the majority of the people around me are Americans, I will just say “mathematics”. When “non-Americans” (if you please) are the “ruling party”, I will effortlessly say MATHS & continue with my sweet sweet life =).

  • avlisk

    I’ve only just begun to listen to the Brits, in podcasts and TV shows, thanks to the internet, and hearing “maths” is grating and clumsy to my ears, having grown up in the USA. But, the Brits also seem to dislike collective nouns, where a group which is obviously plural will become singular, and takes a singular form of the verb in the USA, but the plural form in the UK. Horses for courses. (An expression I just learned!)

  • Ollie Ford

    As a Brit, I often wind people up by my saying ‘math’.

    My argument is as in the article – why contract the word and keep the s?

    Though, user ‘MathsStats’ raises an excellent point on this, too. I don’t often contract ‘statistics’, but if I did, I would say ‘stats’, not ‘stat’. Though it could be argued that that is too avoid ambiguity with ‘STAT’.

  • Kata

    Interesting comments thread! Funny how even the difference of whether to use a terminal ‘s’ or not on a single word can get a bit political 🙂

    I googled the math/maths thing in the first place because it occurred to me the American usage is entering British usage a bit. As a few people have already pointed out, it is already used in certain academic contexts. I think this is because there is a subtle distinction between the usage of the words ‘maths’ and ‘mathematics’ in Britain, to the extent the former is almost a separate word rather than merely an abbreviation. ‘Maths’ to me implies general usage – the sort taught in primary schools, mental arithmetic etc. ‘Mathematics’ generally implies a higher study of the subject (at uni etc). So when the latter is abbreviated, it becomes ‘math’ to continue to distinguish it from ‘school maths’.

    Also, I noticed it’s about 50/50 which variant Brits go for when they say, ‘you do the math/s’. I imagine this is because the phrase originates in America and we use it as a whole-cloth import.

    Incidentally, you list other similarly debatable singular/plural words in the article and note that they are not commonly abbreviated. ‘Gymnastics’ is, though – and we follow the ‘math’ rule on that one, saying ‘I’ve got gym class’ rather than ‘gyms class’.

    So yeah 🙂

  • Math

    I think they’re both correct. I think Mathematics is really genitive case noun, not a plural, that includes its modified noun.

    So math as an abbreviation is perfectly correct.

    In the UK, basic mathematical equations are also called “sums” (or sum singular). So we’d more likely say “I’ve done the sums” instead of “I’ve done the math”, and I’d suggest this inherent recognition of the repetitive nature of maths is the source of the plurality (ie mathematics = lots of sums).

    So maths as a plural is equally perfectly OK.

  • Targetz

    Math would make the best sense to me rather because if you leave ematics away you’ll be left with : Math, exactly. (referring to article) Btw, English is not my native language so I think I have the advantage of being objective :).

    But my honest opinion is this : Mathematics is a beautiful word don’t rape it by using a shorter version of it!

  • Frank

    ”If so, then the proper form is math; and “maths” is odd, funny, and affected-sounding. Just like saying chemistries, histories, and literatures would be when referring to those subjects.”

    How is saying maths like any of those?! The subject is called mathematics and maths is the British abbreviation of it. Chemistry is chemistry and history is history. You’ve just said plural versions of singular words which adds (or add for USA) nothing to the debate.

  • Percy Phelps

    Mathematics is very DEFINITELY plural and the s was added to denote that.

    Most dictionaries post 2000 are likely to say something like it being plural but generally used as a singular noun, pre 2000 they are more likely to say something like it be a plural and *sometimes* used as a singular noun, and in some cases that it is plural only.

    The point is the word is plural POST the abbreviation being used (some say that it turned from being a plural to a singular PRIOR to the abbreviation which is NOT true – it is only the context in which it is most commonly used that has changed).

    An abbreviation should NOT lose the true meaning of the original word and therefore, whilst there is no hard and fast rule for making an abbreviation of a word, losing the fact that the word is, at the very LEAST in some contexts, a plural, has got to be incorrect if the abbreviation is to be used interchangeably with mathematics in ALL contexts.

    Thus maths has the same characteristic as mathematics, that is, it is a plural word that can be used as a singular noun.

    Obviously, math, does not.

  • Newt

    My goodness, I never thought I’d stumble upon such a debate! So many passionate responses!

    I just googled “is maths a word” because up until recently (being a Yankee myself) I had simply never heard it used that way. More and more exposure to British television and the readily accessible global community on the internet has exposed me to a ton of new terminology and expressions and I love learning each and every one.

    I don’t think I’d have any new perspective on the subject; everyone here has been able to present a perfectly valid argument for one usage over the other.

    I guess from my own personal experience and use, I can justify using “math” based on how we generally shorten not just words, but specifically school subjects: “literature” is often “lit,” “biology” is “bio,” “chemistry” is “chem,” “physical education” is “phys ed,” “psychology” is “psych,” “political science” is “poli sci,” and then “mathematics” is “math.” I honestly feel it’s less about proper grammar and more about simply lopping off the tail end of the word.

    I think it starts to feel like more of a “proper grammar” thing when you start relating the word to a setting outside of school. When you really think about it, your first relationship with mathematics is in school, where it is presented as a subject that you’re going to nickname (because “mathematics is a big word when you’re in kindergarten!). I think sticking with that nickname as you grow is what makes that the more familiar term.

    To me, at least (and I suppose other Americans), the word “maths” just SOUNDS like more than one kind of math, simply because of how we’re taught. I feel like even when we refer to other kinds of math, we shorten them by chopping off the ends (as in “pre-calculus” being shortened to “pre-calc” as opposed to “pre-calcs”) to keep them from sounding like more than one occurrence of math.

    Anyway I’m getting all rambly. I’m just fascinated that this seemed to be a point of such contention when to me it seems like more of a regional sort of thing, like “soda” versus “pop” versus “coke.” None of them are wrong; it’s just where you’re from!

  • VigorousJammer

    I would argue that “mathematics” is actually NOT plural, but instead a singular noun that works as a classification of many different fields of study.

    Similar to the word “design”, there are many different types of design, but you would never say “design” is a plural, it’s not actually describing multiple things, it’s describing the singular thing those things have in common.

    How about “science”? There are many different types of “sciences”, but when you’re talking about it as a whole, we use the singular “science”.

    The same can be said for “mathematics”, which is why I still believe “math” to be more correct.

  • Sad at the decline

    Vigorousjammer , I disagree . Mathematics is plural and as you rightly stated covers a wide range of subjects . But to shorten a plural word to give it singular meaning is wrong . It is not needed , the word mathematic to describe field of mathematics dosn’t exist either side of the pond , you would simply say I’m doing algebra etc. to use math in a singular sense is wrong as it is an abbreviation of a plural word .

    That said and because mathematics is a plural word and saying math makes it sound singular that maths has to be correct .

  • Karla

    “maths” is the latest British invasion because of shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Elementary.” (I heard Johnny Lee Miller say “maths” on an episode recently.) Accept it–American’s aren’t British and Brits aren’t Americans. So? I’ve lived in the midwest, New England, Southern California, and now Texas. Everyone has their own way of speaking. (Yes, we Americans put periods and commas inside the quotation marks, too. Get over it.) I’ve been a technical writer for a long, long time, yet even I’m shocked at how prescriptive some people are with grammar. So silly. (Some of you need to go to youtube and listen to that Pharrell Williams video, “Happy”! B-)

  • Norman Lowe

    It is Maths. The USA has adopted English and changed it then attempts to tell the people who not only invented the language but for whom the very name is their ethnic identity they are somehow wrong?

    Why don’t they get their own language and stop bastardising ours?

  • Gary

    Hmm. I thought “the people who … invented the language” were all dead? Well, I suppose not, since it is a living language and must therefore have living speakers.

    As to “getting our own language”, I think our forebears brought one with them, thank you. It was and is called English. And we have changed it no more since it was brought here, than you have since they left. (It has, of course, changed somewhat on both sides.)

    Unlike the English, however, we have not adopted the innovation of pronouncing the “h” in “herb”, but continue to pronounce it as our mutual ancestors did.

  • Gary

    For consistency I should probably have written,

    “We have changed it no more since it was brought here, than you have since it was taken” — or some such phrase. Alas, I’m only an American, and thus doomed to bastardize the language.

    Well, at least we got rid of that silly German family who were pretending to be English.

  • Mark

    I’m in the camp that “math” is proper. As you say, it doesn’t make any sense to be dropping the “ematic” while leaving the ‘s’. I have no difficulty accepting that “math” is just a shortened form of ‘mathematics’, just as easily as a word like ‘drama’ can easily be used as a shortened form for the word ‘dramatics’, when talking about the general field, or art of acting, for example.

    Oh, and I’m not American.

  • Savannah

    I actually don’t see why they can’t both be correct; people could just use the one they liked, or use them interchangeably. It’s not like homonyms are a new thing, anyway.

  • John Cox

    It is not correct that North American speakers of English use the word “math”, and speakers of “British” English use “maths”. Only North Americans use “math”, all other speakers of English use “maths”.

  • Bob

    Pardon me but what is american English? I think you mean american; and what is British English? I think you mean English. How long has america existed? A couple of hundred years. England, however, has existed for far longer, so don’t call it “British English” because in Britain there are more than 3 other languages – they’re not all English; and don’t call it “american English” because such a thing doesn’t exist. america needs to get its own language and stop trying to change what already is.

    If it’s “incorrect” to remove “ematic” and keep the S at the end, then in the examples, “That is Robert’s computer” and “That is Rob’s computer”, the S should also be removed. Sarcastic? No – truth.


    P.S. How long shall I wait for Americans and Americanised people to come and try and defend America with their “logic” and rationalisations?

  • Seth Jeffery

    These arguments over “correct english” are quite interesting and also humorous. (Is that “quite” as in very, or “quite” as in a little bit?)

    I speak as a Brit and, considering how obscure the english language is, you simply cannot argue by logic whether a word should be written one way or another. English as a language has always defied logic: One house, two houses; one mouse, two mice. Cough, dough, rough, plough (plow?), through, hiccough!!

    I also find the historical argument (“English should belong to the English”) makes little sense either. English is and has always been an evolving language. It’s possible that 400 years ago they said “math” and the British changed it, or perhaps they said “maths” and the Americans changed it, or perhaps they said “mathematics” and both sides went their separate ways! Who cares? 100 years ago the word “gay” meant happy, and now it means homosexual, and I don’t hear anyone getting upset about it.

    In the end, there are simply different sets of rules for vocabulary and grammar depending on which locale you are addressing. And the more you learn and respect, the better at communication y’all gonna be.. bruv.

  • Rey Leija

    The origin of the word “mathematics” was derived from the greek “mathema” which evolved into the latin neuter plural “matematica” (no s) meaning mathematical art. So what is wrong with dropping the “s” when the true origin of the word never contained one to begin with.

    For those that would argue that its not plausible to have both “math” and “maths” because “mathematic” is not a word. When the term was absorbed into the french language (before it was used by the english), the French used “les mathematiques” plurally and “les mathematique” singularly.

  • Dano

    British people getting upset about the bastardisation of their language! Laughable. English is derived from Germanic languages, so the good people of England didn’t invent this precious language. You can thank imperialism for your bastardisation. When the number of “English” speaking people outnumber the population of England you don’t get to call the shots anymore.

  • Charles Higginson

    I’m late to this party, but I hope many of the posters above have acquired appropriate prescription medication. Jeez.
    A quick read of the entry on “-ics” in Fowler/Gowers’ 1965 “Modern English Usage” makes about 95 percent of the arguments above, whether pro, con, quasi-reasonable, jingoistic, idiotic, or incoherent, seem quite small.

  • Mike Applegate

    Basically, the US is the only nation to use the term ‘math’. Every other English speaking nation uses ‘Maths’. The term that I hear a lot of US people using is ‘You do the math’ but if you expressed that fully it would read ‘You do the mathematic’ which just sounds wrong. I think if the US are the ONLY people saying ‘Math’ then you’re clearly in the wrong, regardless of any convoluted explanation you try and apply to it. Besides, it’s the ‘English’ language, so whatever we say goes because it’s our language, 😝😝😝😝

  • Anonymous

    Why don’t we all just say the slightly more complicated version “mathematics” all the time, BOOM problem solved. If you disagree with me then I feel obligated to say you are lazy.

  • Potato

    Is this really what you humans waste your little your time on?
    – A very succesful potato

  • David Crawford

    Mathematics, There is no singular in Maths. You need two numbers to do mathematics therefore its MATHS. If you have only One its COUNTING.

  • Andy

    It is “maths”! Just because you might be from North America doesn’t mean you get to bastardise proper English!

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