In mathematics, you’ll see many references about numbers. Numbers can be classified into groups and initially it may seem somewhat perplexing but as you work with numbers throughout your education in math, they will soon become second nature to you. You’ll hear a variety of terms being thrown at you and you’ll soon be using those terms with great familiarity yourself. You will also soon discover that some numbers will belong to more than one group. For instance, a prime number is also an integer and a whole number. Here is a breakdown of how we classify numbers:

Natural Numbers

Natural numbers are what you use when you are counting one to one objects. You may be counting pennies or buttons or cookies. When you start using 1,2,3,4 and so on, you are using the counting numbers or to give them a proper title, you are using the natural numbers.

Whole Numbers

Whole numbers are easy to remember. They’re not fractions, they’re not decimals, they’re simply whole numbers. The only thing that makes them different than natural numbers is that we include the zero when we are referring to whole numbers. However, some mathematicians will also include the zero in natural numbers and I’m not going to argue the point. I’ll accept both if a reasonable argument is presented. Whole numbers are 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on.

Integers

Integers can be whole numbers or they can be whole numbers with a negative sign in front of them. Individuals often refer to integers as the positive and negative numbers. Integers are -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on.

Rational Numbers

Rational numbers have integers AND fractions AND decimals. Now you can see that numbers can belong to more than one classification group. Rational numbers can also have repeating decimals which you will see be written like this: 0.54444444… which simply means it repeats forever, sometimes you will see a line drawn over the decimal place which means it repeats forever, instead of having a …., the final number will have a line drawn above it.

Irrational Numbers

Irrational numbers don’t include integers OR fractions. However, irrational numbers can have a decimal value that continues forever WITHOUT a pattern, unlike the example above. An example of a well known irrational number is pi which as we all know is 3.14 but if we look deeper at it, it is actually 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419…..and this goes on for somewhere around 5 trillion digits!

Real Numbers

Here is another category where some other of the number classifications will fit. Real numbers include natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, rational numbers and irrational numbers. Real numbers also include fraction and decimal numbers.

In summary, this is a basic overview of the number classification system, as you move to advanced math, you will encounter complex numbers. I’ll leave it that complex numbers are real and imaginary.