Published on Nov 8, 2019

0 Number Background Images

License Info: Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC

0 (zero) is both a number and a numerical digit used to represent that number in numerals. As a number, zero means nothing—an absence of other values. It plays a central role in mathematics as the identity element of the integers, real numbers, and many other algebraic structures. As a digit, zero is used as a placeholder in place value systems. Historically, it was the last digit to come into use. In the English language, zero may also be called nil when a number, o/oh when a numeral, and nought/naught in either context.

0 as a Number

0 is the integer that precedes the positive 1, and follows −1. In most (if not all) numerical systems, 0 was identified before the idea of ‘negative integers’ was accepted.

Zero is an integer which quantifies a count or an amount of null size; that is, if the number of your brothers is zero, that means the same thing as having no brothers, and if something has a weight of zero, it has no weight. If the difference between the number of pieces in two piles is zero, it means the two piles have an equal number of pieces. Before counting starts, the result can be assumed to be zero; that is the number of items counted before you count the first item and counting the first item brings the result to one. And if there are no items to be counted, zero remains the final result.


While mathematicians all accept zero as a number, some non-mathematicians would say that zero is not a number, arguing one cannot have zero of something. Others hold that if you have a bank balance of zero, you have a specific quantity of money in your account, namely none. It is that latter view which is accepted by mathematicians and most others.

Almost all historians omit the year zero from the proleptic Gregorian and Julian calendars, but astronomers include it in these same calendars. However, the phrase Year Zero may be used to describe any event considered so significant that it virtually starts a new time reckoning.


The word zero comes through the Arabic literal translation of the Sanskrit śūnya ( शून्य ), meaning void or empty, into ṣifr (صفر) meaning empty or vacant. Through transliteration this became zephyr or zephyrus in Latin. The word zephyrus already meant “west wind” in Latin; the proper noun Zephyrus was the Roman god of the west wind (after the Greek god Zephyros). With its new use for the concept of zero, zephyr came to mean a light breeze—”an almost nothing.” This became zefiro in Italian, which was contracted to zero in Venetian, giving the modern English word.

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