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Definition: zero from Collins English Dictionary

n pl -ros or -roes 1 the symbol 0, indicating an absence of quantity or magnitude; nought Former name: cipher

2 the integer denoted by the symbol 0; nought

3 the cardinal number between +1 and –1

4 nothing; nil

5 a person or thing of no significance; nonentity

6 the lowest point or degree: his prospects were put at zero

7 the line or point on a scale of measurement from which the graduations commence

8 a the temperature, pressure, etc, that registers a reading of zero on a scale b the value of a variable, such as temperature, obtained under specified conditions

9 a gunsight setting in which accurate allowance has been made for both windage and elevation for a specified range

10 maths a the cardinal number of a set with no members b the identity element of addition

11 linguistics a an allomorph with no phonetic realization, as the plural marker of English sheep b (as modifier): a zero form 12 Also called: zero-coupon bond finance a bond that pays no interest, the equivalent being paid in its redemption value Compare Zebra ▷adj

13 having no measurable quantity, magnitude, etc

14 meteorol a (of a cloud ceiling) limiting visibility to 15 metres (50 feet) or less b (of horizontal visibility) limited to 50 metres (165 feet) or less vb (-roes, -roing, -roed)

15 (tr) to adjust (an instrument, apparatus, etc) so as to read zero or a position taken as zero ▷determiner

16 informal chiefly US no (thing) at all: this job has zero interest

[C17: from Italian, from Medieval Latin zephirum, from Arabic sifr empty, cipher]


Summary Article: zero
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

that number which, when added to any number, leaves the latter unchanged; its symbol is 0. The introduction of zero into the decimal system was the most significant achievement in the development of a number system in which calculation with large numbers was feasible. Without it, modern astronomy, physics, and chemistry would have been unthinkable as we know them. The lack of such a symbol was one of the serious drawbacks of Greek mathematics. Its existence in the West is probably due to the Arabs, who, having obtained it from India, passed it on to European mathematicians in the latter part of the Middle Ages. The Maya of Central America and probably the Babylonians also invented zero, but they used the symbol as a placeholder rather than a true number; the Indians were the first to used zero as a number.

With the extension of the number system to negative as well as positive numbers, zero became the name for that position on the scale of integers between −1 and +1. It is used in this sense in speaking of zero degrees on the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales; “absolute zero” is a term used by physicists and chemists to indicate the theoretically lowest possible temperature—a use reminiscent of zero as a symbol for nothing.

Unlike other numbers, zero has certain special properties in connection with the four fundamental operations. By definition zero added to or subtracted from any number leaves the number unchanged. Any number multiplied by zero gives zero. Zero multiplied by or divided by any number (other than zero) is still zero. But division by zero is undefined; i.e., there is no number that is the value of a number divided by zero.

  • See Seife, C. , Zero (2000).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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