The real numbers correspond to the points on the line.
For example, the point marked ‘0’ is the number 0 (zero),
and the point marked ‘1’ is the number 1 (one).
Given these, you can find whatever other points you may wish,
such as 2, 3, 17, −5, 7/9, 8.6, and so on.
The direction from 0 to 1 is the **positive direction**,
and the direction from 1 to 0 is the **negative direction**.
The distance between 0 and 1 gives the **scale** on the line,
also called the **unit** distance.

So, if you start at 0
and go in the positive direction for the unit distance,
then you get to 1.
If you continue from there in the same direction for the same distance,
then you get to 2, then 3, 4, and so on.
If you go in the negative direction instead,
then you get to −1, then −2, −3, and so on.
The numbers that you get in this way are the **integers**.
But there are many numbers in between the integers;
these are the **fractional numbers**.

The numbers in the positive direction from 0
are the **positive numbers**;
and the numbers in the negative direction from 0
are the **negative numbers**.
The **natural numbers** are simply the positive integers,
and the **whole numbers** are the non-negative integers.
So, the natural numbers are 1, 2, 3, …;
the whole numbers are 0, 1, 2, 3, …;
and the integers
are …, −3, −2, −1, 0, 1, 2, 3, ….

Here is a number line with the integers from −10 to 10 marked. Notice the arrows on the end, indicating that the line should go on forever, even though obviously one can only draw a little part of it.

In terms of the real number line,
**addition** involves moving along the number line.
To add a number,
first see how you must move along the line to go from 0 to that number.
Then start at the number you're adding to, and make that same motion.
For example, to go from 0 to 4,
you move the unit distance 4 times in the positive direction.
Thus, to find 2 + 4,
you start at 2 and move the unit distance 4 times in the positive direction,
ending at 6.
From a geometric perspective, this is *why* 2 + 4 is 6.

Here is a picture of the calculation 2 + 4. (By the way, the artist forgot to put the arrows at the ends of this real line.)

The **opposite** of a real number
is given by a point which is the *same distance* from 0
but in the *opposite direction*.
For example, the opposite of 7 is −7,
while the opposite of −4 is 4.
Note that the minus sign (‘−’)
in the names of negative numbers
does *not* really mean negative;
rather, *the minus sign means opposite*!
Using this symbol, the examples above become as follows:

- −(7) = −7;
- −(−4) = 4.

In other words, a negative number has a minus sign in its name
only because there is no simpler name without a minus sign;
but the minus sign is not itself the reason that the number is negative.
This is particularly important in algebra,
because −*x* might be positive or negative,
depending on what *x* is.
For example, if *x* is −4,
then −*x* is 4, as in the example above.

Now **subtraction** simply means adding the opposite.
So for example, subtracting 7 is the same as adding −7,
and subtracting −4 is the same as adding 4.
To be more specific, suppose I want to subtract −4 from 2;
that is, I want to calculate 2 − (−4).
Then since the opposite of −4 is 4,
this means the same as 2 + 4, which, as I mentioned above, is 6.
In summary, a full calculation consists of these steps:

- 2 − (−4) — original problem;
- 2 + (−(−4)) — since subtraction means adding the opposite;
- 2 + 4 — since we found on the number line that −(−4) is 4;
- 6 — since we found on the number line that 2 + 4 is 6.

On the number line, addition has to do with how you move from 0 to a number,
so it has a special relationship with 0.
**Multiplication**, on the other hand,
has a special relationship with the number 1.
But rather than simply moving from 1 to the number you're multiplying by,
you must expand and contract the number line instead.
As you expand and contract the number line, the number 0 is fixed
(so 0 is still special in multiplication, but in a different way).
To be precise, to multiply by a number,
expand and contract the number line, fixing 0,
to move 1 to the number in question.
Then whatever number you're multiplying by will move to your answer.

For example, to multiply by 3, expand the number line to 3 times its length, because this will move 1 to 3. Then the number 2 moves in the positive direction (getting even further from 0) to 6, so 3 · 2 is 6. On the other hand, the number −2 moves in the negative direction (also getting even further from 0) to −6, so 3 · (−2) is −6. As another example, to multiply by 1/2 (one half), you must contract the number line to half its length, because this will move 1 to 1/2. As you do this, the number 2 moves in the negative direction (closer to 0), becoming 1, while the number −2 moves in the positive direction (also closer to 0), becoming −1. Thus, (1/2) · 2 is 1, while (1/2) · (−2) is −1.

As a final example, to multiply by −3,
you must contract the number line to 0,
then expand it in the opposite direction to 3 times its length,
because this will move 1 to −3.
As you do this, the number 2
moves in the negative direction (*past* 0) to −6,
while the number −2 moves in the positive direction (also past 0) to 6.
Thus, (−3) · 2 is −6,
while (−3) · (−2) is 6.
Again, this is *why* multiplying a negative number by a negative number
yields a positive result:
every time you multiply by a negative number,
you move every number past 0 to the opposite side,
in particular moving negative numbers to positive numbers.

Next, the **reciprocal** of a number,
if the number has a reciprocal,
is whatever you must multiply the number by to get the result 1.
So for example, since 2 · 1/2 = 1,
the reciprocal of 2 is 1/2.
(Actually, this is the *reason* why we call 1/2 ‘1/2’;
see the next paragraph.)
But notice that there is a number that has no reciprocal:
there is no such thing as the reciprocal of 0!
This is because,
no matter how we expand and contract the number line in multiplication,
the number 0 is always fixed,
so there is no way that it will ever move to the number 1.

Finally, just as subtraction means adding the opposite,
so **division** means multiplying by the reciprocal.
For example, since the reciprocal of 2 is 1/2,
3 divided by 2 means 3 times 1/2.
But we really have no better name for this than ‘3/2’,
which literally just means 3 divided by 2.
Nevertheless, if you want to find 3/2 on the number line,
you can start at 1/2 (the reciprocal of 2)
and then expand the number line to 3 times its length to find 3/2.
As another example, to find 3/(1/2), that is 3 divided by 1/2,
first notice that the reciprocal of 1/2 is 2
(since 1/2 · 2 = 1),
so 3/(1/2) means 3 · 2, which is 6.
Again, this is, in detail, *why* 3 divided by 1/2 is 6,
even if you can do the calculation in another way.

It's important to notice that, because 0 has no reciprocal,
it is impossible to divide by 0!
We say that division by 0 is **undefined**,
because nobody has given any meaning to an expression like ‘3/0’.
Of course, the meaning of ‘3/0’ *should* be
whatever you get when you multiply 3 by the reciprocal of 0,
but there *is no* reciprocal of 0 in the first place.
Notice that this problem does *not* arise with ‘0/3’;
this means whatever you get when you multiply 0 by the reciprocal of 3,
which is simply 0 (since there is a reciprocal of 3).
So 0/3 is 0, but 3/0 does not exist.
(Also, 0/0 does not exist either!)

The **natural numbers**
are those real numbers that can be built out of:

- the number 1;
- addition; and
- multiplication (optional).

The **whole numbers**
are those real numbers that can be built out of:

- the number 0;
- the number 1;
- addition; and
- multiplication (optional).

The **integers**
are those real numbers that can be built out of:

- the number 0;
- the number 1;
- addition;
- taking opposites;
- multiplication (optional); and
- subtraction (optional).

This idea can be extended one step further,
bringing in reciprocals (and division).
The **rational numbers**
are those real numbers that can be built out of:

- the number 0;
- the number 1;
- addition;
- taking opposites;
- multiplication;
- taking reciprocals (except the reciprocal of 0);
- subtraction (optional); and
- division (optional).

There are other types of real numbers;
in particular, by the end of the course,
I'll be able to describe for you the **algebraic numbers**.
For now, I'll just say that an algebraic number
is defined not by how you can build it up,
but instead whether you can *get back* to 0 in a nontrivial way
using that number, the number 1, and the basic operations of real numbers.

For most of these types of real numbers,
there is a special term for a number which is *not* of that type.
Here they are:

A number which is not … |
is … |
---|---|

an integer, | a fractional number. |

a rational number, | an irrational number. |

an algebraic number, | a transcendental number. |

Nearly all of the numbers that we'll be using in this class are rational.
There are many ways to write rational numbers,
but the best way for the purposes of algebra
is as common (possibly improper) fractions,
like 1/2, 7/6, and −3/8.
Less useful are **mixed numbers** like 1 1/6;
this means 1 + 1/6, which is the same as 7/6.
Also less useful are **decimal fractions** like 0.375;
this means 375/1000, which is the same as 3/8.
Finally, repeating decimals can also be turned into common fractions;
for example, 1.1363636… means 1 + 1/10 + 36/990,
which (if you work it out) is the same as 25/22.
(Notice that an infinite decimal that does *not* repeat,
such as 1.010010001…, is an *irrational* number.)
Sometimes it's useful if your *final answer*
is a mixed number or a decimal approximation,
but *within* a calculation,
common fractions are almost always the best.

The absolute value of a number
is denoted by placing that number inside two vertical bars.
So for example, |3| is the absolute value of 3, which is again 3.
Similarly, |−3| is the absolute value of −3, which is also 3.
Sometimes people think that the point of the absolute value bars
is to remove minus signs, or to change minus signs to plus signs.
But that is *not* true!
For example, |2 − 6| means |−4|, which is 4,
while |2 + 6| and 2 + 6 are both 8.
This is especially important in algebra,
where you *cannot* change |2 − *x*|
to |2 + *x*| or 2 + *x*,
nor can you change |2 + *x*| to 2 + *x*.

In particular, there is no way to change |*x*| to anything simpler,
unless you happen to know whether *x* might be positive or negative.
If you do know, then you can say this:

If … | then … |
---|---|

x ≥ 0, | |x| = x. |

x ≤ 0, |
|x| = −x. |

Given any two expressions for real numbers, exactly one of the three symbols ‘<’, ‘>’, and ‘=’ is appropriate to put between them. If you can see the numbers on a number line, it's obvious which symbol to use. Otherwise, you can calculate it by subtracting, as in this table:

If a − b is … |
then … |
---|---|

positive, | a > b. |

negative, | a < b. |

zero, | a = b. |

The symbols ‘<’, ‘>’, and ‘=’ give complete information about the relative order of two real numbers. Sometimes you only have partial information; then you can use the symbols ‘≤’, ‘≥’, and ‘≠’, as follows:

If … | then … | or … | but not … |
---|---|---|---|

a ≤ b, | a < b, |
a = b, | a > b. |

a ≥ b, | a > b, |
a = b, | a < b. |

a ≠ b, |
a < b, | a > b, |
a = b. |

You can also compare complicated expressions built using the various operations. For example, to compare 3 + 4 and 2 · 5, you calculate that 3 + 4 is 7, while 2 · 5 is 10; since 7 < 10, you can conclude that 3 + 4 < 2 · 5. In summary:

- original problem: 3 + 4 ? 2 · 5;
- work out the left side: 3 + 4 = 7;
- work out the right side: 2 · 5 = 10;
- compare the results: 7 < 10;
- answer the original question: 3 + 4 < 2 · 5.

- original problem: |3 − 4| ? 2 · 3 − 5;
- work out the left side: |3 − 4| = |−1| = 1;
- work out the right side: 2 · 3 − 5 = 6 − 5 = 1;
- compare the results: 1 = 1;
- answer the original question: |3 − 4| = 2 · 3 − 5.

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