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.


111 Responses to “Math or Maths?”

  • Michael Organ

    There are some things which are important with language and some things which are not and this fits perfectly in the Not bloody important category.
    Language is wonderful but only if it able and allowed to develop naturally led by people power and not some self-appointed body who nit-pick about silly variations. I would rather leave to the French who have as good as killed their language playing this silly game.
    I accept both Math and Maths but I grew up using the latter and so it just rolls of my tongue that way. If someone picks it up I will usually just say well I’m English so that’s how we say it but if you want to say Math because I won’t allow you to impose your fascist cultural ideas on me thank you.
    There are a few things that get under my collar but this is not one of them. The annoying habit that so many in the US have of saying ‘Have a nice day’, because they don’t realise it is built into the language (Good day is fine). Anyway when someone says Good day (or g’day’s in the Antipodes which I love) it’s a politeness but most of the time when someone says ‘Have a nice day’ it’s through gritted teeth and you know bloody well they wish you anything other than a good day.
    So get over yourselves and just enjoy the ride.

  • Keith

    1. There is no such word as “math” in relation to mathematics. Some Americans appear to enjoy annoying English people by attempting to bastardise the English language. They then broadcast (pollute) their misinformation via the internet, movies or books. It is disrespectful.
    Example: many people in the Philippines have been taught English incorrectly by Americanised teachers. Now, the rest of the English speaking world needs to help them learn correct English.
    2. There is no such thing as British English. It is just English. Why? It originates from England. ENGlish. ENGland. Pretty logical for a most people I would have thought. Also, because not everybody there speaks English. There are Scottish, Welsh and Irish too.
    3. Why the “S” in “maths” is there.. The abbreviation is plural and not singular. How many types of mathematics are there? Several. Examples.. Geometry, Calculus, Statistics.
    4. Why is “maths” and “mathematics” correct and other words such as “science” and “sciences” also correct? Because that is how the intricacies of the English language works.
    5. Americans often say “different” where English speakers would often say “differently”. For some unknown reason Americans omit the end of the word. Again they bastardise the English language.
    6. Americans often say “off of” instead of “off” or “from”. There is no sentence in English with “of off” in it. A very common American bastardisation and a very annoying one.
    7. Then, it becomes worse. Much worse. Americans construct a sentence with the words in the incorrect order. They really need to start calling their language American, and not English or American English. At the current rate that they are bastardising English, in a few hundred years someone using English elsewhere in the world will not be able to understand much of what an American says or writes.

  • Richard Collett

    Boy, a lot of Anglo-snobbery here. Both math and maths is correct. Get over it. I will never use maths. It grates on the ear.

    On the hand. An American checks into a hotel in London. He asks the desk manager where the elevators are located. The manager said, “Sir, the lift is to your right.” The American said indignantly, “The elevator was invented in America, so the term is elevator.”

    The manager quip, “Sir, the language is ours, thus it is a lift.”

  • Barbara Albert

    I’d just like to say that I grew up saying math, as in “I’m not very good in math.” That said, I can see your point, those of you who argue for Maths vs Math, but don’t you agree it’s hard to say maths? When I say it, I think I have to exaggerate the word or I can’t quite hear myself saying the plural, still only hearing math. So, itbfeels wrong on my tongue. I ask myself, what is the point? Still everywhere I turn now, I’m seeing maths being used like three to one over math. It just irks me as I believe I had a good education and this thing just seems to have taken over. If I give in, and I’m not saying I will, and I don’t care who my audience is, I think I will default to saying mathematics, which, as cumbersome as it is, sounds better on my tongue than maths.

  • Trevor Butcher

    Well, I am English, and I use both math and maths. I do not care for the nationalistic hate messages: I will use the form I want to use, and not have my choices made for me like I was some kind of nation-robot fighting a robot-nation war, just because I am from one place on the globe.

    Stuff that! My language is MY language.

    I generally make my written choices based on what I think will most likely succeed with the reader, while my spoken language is whatever it is.

  • Andy

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

  • 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.

  • Potato

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

  • 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.

  • 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, 😝😝😝😝

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    Thanks.

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

  • 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”.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

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