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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The decimal numeral system (also called base ten or occasionally denary) has ten as its base. It is the numerical base most widely used by modern civilizations.

Decimal notation often refers to a base-10 positional notation such as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system; however, it can also be used more generally to refer to non-positimatonal systems such as Roman or Chinese numerals which are also based on powers of ten.

Decimals also refer to decimal fractions, either separately or in contrast to vulgar fractions. In this context, a decimal is a tenth part, and decimals become a series of nested tenths. There was a notation in use like 'tenth-metre', meaning the tenth decimal of the metre, currently an Angstrom. The contrast here is between decimals and vulgar fractions, and decimal divisions and other divisions of measures, like the inch. It is possible to follow a decimal expansion with a vulgar fraction; this is done with the recent divisions of the troy ounce, which has three places of decimals, followed by a trinary place.

Decimal notation

Decimal notation is the writing of numbers in a base-10 numeral system. Examples are Roman numerals, Brahmi numerals, and Chinese numerals, as well as the Hindu-Arabic numerals used by speakers of many European languages. Roman numerals have symbols for the decimal powers (1, 10, 100, 1000) and secondary symbols for half these values (5, 50, 500). Brahmi numerals have symbols for the nine numbers 1–9, the nine decades 10–90, plus a symbol for 100 and another for 1000. Chinese numerals have symbols for 1–9, and additional symbols for powers of 10, which in modern usage reach 1044.

However, when people who use Hindu-Arabic numerals speak of decimal notation, they often mean not just decimal numeration, as above, but also decimal fractions, all conveyed as part of a positional system. Positional decimal systems include a zero and use symbols (called digits) for the ten values (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9) to represent any number, no matter how large or how small. These digits are often used with a decimal separator which indicates the start of a fractional part, and with a symbol such as the plus sign + (for positive) or minus sign − (for negative) adjacent to the numeral to indicate whether it is greater or less than zero, respectively.

Positional notation uses positions for each power of ten: units, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. The position of each digit within a number denotes the multiplier (power of ten) multiplied with that digit—each position has a value ten times that of the position to its right. There were at least two presumably independent sources of positional decimal systems in ancient civilization: the Chinese counting rod system and the Hindu-Arabic numeral system (the latter descended from Brahmi numerals).

Ten is the number which is the count of fingers and thumbs on both hands (or toes on the feet). The English word digit as well as its translation in many languages is also the anatomical term for fingers and toes. In English, decimal (decimus < Lat.) means tenth, decimate means reduce by a tenth, and denary (denarius < Lat.) means the unit of ten.

The symbols for the digits in common use around the globe today are called Arabic numerals by Europeans and Indian numerals by Arabs, the two groups' terms both referring to the culture from which they learned the system. However, the symbols used in different areas are not identical; for instance, Western Arabic numerals (from which the European numerals are derived) differ from the forms used by other Arab cultures.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Decimal" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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