World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Prime (symbol)

Article Id: WHEBN0000724804
Reproduction Date:

Title: Prime (symbol)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Apostrophe, Quotation marks in English, Symbol (chemistry), Foot (unit), Minute and second of arc
Collection: Punctuation, Typographical Symbols
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Prime (symbol)

Double prime Triple prime Combining prime

The prime symbol ( ′ ), double prime symbol ( ″ ), triple prime symbol (  ), quadruple prime symbol (  ) etc., are used to designate several different units and for various other purposes in mathematics, the sciences, linguistics and music. The prime symbol should not be confused with the apostrophe, single quotation mark, acute accent, or grave accent; the double prime symbol should not be confused with the double quotation mark,[1] the ditto mark, or the letter double apostrophe. The prime symbol is very similar to the Hebrew geresh, but in modern fonts the geresh is designed to be aligned with the Hebrew letters and the prime symbol not, so they should not be interchanged.


  • Designation of units 1
  • Use in mathematics, statistics, and science 2
  • Use in linguistics 3
  • Use in Rubik's Cube notation 4
  • Use in music 5
  • History 6
  • Representations 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Designation of units

The prime symbol (′) is commonly used to represent feet (ft), arcminutes (am), and minutes (min). However, for convenience, a (') (single quote mark) is commonly used.

The double prime (″) represents inches (in), arcseconds (as), and seconds (s). However, for convenience, a (") (double quotation mark) is commonly used.

Thus, 3′ 5″ could mean 3 feet and 5 inches (of length) or 3 minutes and 5 seconds (of time). As an angular measurement, 3° 5′ 30″ means 3 degrees, 5 arcminutes and 30 arcseconds.

The triple prime () in watchmaking represents a ligne. It is also occasionally found in historical astronomical works to denote thirds (160 of a second of arc[2][3]).[4][5]

Likewise, a quadruple prime () denotes fourths (160 of a third, a convention already used by Jamshīd al-Kāshī.

Use in mathematics, statistics, and science

In mathematics, the prime is generally used to generate more variable names for things which are similar, without resorting to subscripts – x′ generally means something related to or derived from x. For example, if a point is represented by the Cartesian coordinates (x, y), then that point rotated, translated or reflected might be represented as (x′, y′). The prime symbol is not related to prime numbers.

Usually, the meaning of x′ is defined when it is first used, but sometimes its meaning is assumed to be understood:

  • A derivative or derived function: f′(x) and f″(x) are the first and second derivatives of f(x) with respect to x. Similarly, if y = f(x) then y′ and y″ are the first and second derivatives of y with respect to x. (Other notation exists)
  • Set complement: A′ is the complement of the set A. (Other notation exists)
  • The negation of an event in probability theory: Pr(A′) = 1 − Pr(A). (Other notation exists)
  • The result of a transformation: Tx = x
  • The transpose of a matrix.

The prime is said to "decorate" the letter to which it applies. The same convention is adopted in functional programming, particularly in Haskell.

In physics, the prime is used to denote variables after an event. For example, vA′ would indicate the velocity of object A after an event. It is also commonly used in relativity: The event at (x, y,  z, t) in Inertial frame of reference S has coordinates (x′, y′, z′, t′) in frame S′.

In carbonyl carbon in proteins is denoted as C′, which distinguishes it from the other backbone carbon, the alpha carbon, which is denoted as Cα.

In molecular biology, the prime is used to denote the positions of carbon on a ring of deoxyribose or ribose. The prime distinguishes places on these two chemicals, rather than places on other parts of DNA or RNA, like phosphate groups or nucleic acids. Thus, when indicating the direction of movement of an enzyme along a string of DNA, biologists will say that it moves from the 5′ end to the 3′ end, because these carbons are on the ends of the DNA molecule. The chemistry of this reaction demands that the 3 prime OH is extended by DNA synthesis. Prime can also be used to indicate which position a molecule has attached to, such as 5′-monophosphate.

Use in linguistics

The prime can be used in the transliteration of some languages, such as Slavic languages, to denote palatalization. Prime and double prime are used to transliterate Cyrillic yeri (the soft sign, ь) and yer (the hard sign, ъ).[6]

Originally, X-bar theory used a bar over syntactic units to indicate bar-levels in syntactic structure, generally rendered as an overbar. While easy to write, the bar notation proved difficult to typeset, leading to the adoption of the prime symbol to indicate a bar. (Despite the lack of bar, the unit would still be read as "X bar", as opposed to "X prime".) With contemporary development of typesetting software such as LaTeX, typesetting bars is considerably simpler; nevertheless, both prime and bar markups are accepted usages.

Some X-bar notations use a double-prime (standing in for a double-bar) to indicate a phrasal level, indicated in most notations by "XP".

Use in Rubik's Cube notation

In Rubik's Cube move notation the prime is used to invert moves or move sequences (e.g., L means "turn the left face 90 degrees clockwise", whereas L′ means "turn the left face 90 degrees counter-clockwise").

Use in music

Prime, double prime and triple prime

The prime symbol is used in combination with lower case letters in the Helmholtz pitch notation system to distinguish notes in different octaves from middle C upwards. Thus c represents the C below middle C, c′ represents middle C, c″ represents the C in the octave above middle C, and c the C in the octave two octaves above middle C. A combination of upper case letters and sub-prime symbols is used to represent notes in lower octaves. Thus C represents the C below the bass stave, while C ͵ represents the C in the octave below that.

In some musical scores, the double prime (″) is used to indicate a length of time in seconds. It is used over a fermata denoting a long note or rest.


The name "prime" is something of a metonymy. Through the early part of the 20th century, the notation x′ was read as "x prime" not because it was an x followed by a "prime symbol", but because it was the first in the series that continued with x″ ("x second") and x ("x third"). It was only later, in the 1950s and 1960s, that the term "prime" began to be applied to the apostrophe-like symbol itself. Although it is now more common to pronounce x″ and x as "x double prime" and "x triple prime", these are still sometimes pronounced in the old manner as "x second" and "x third".


Prime, double prime and triple prime

Unicode and HTML representations of the prime and related symbols are as follows.

Character Unicode HTML entity
Prime ( ′ ) U+2032
Double prime ( ″ ) U+2033
Triple prime (  ) U+2034
Reversed prime (  ) U+2035
Reversed double prime (  ) U+2036
Reversed triple prime (  ) U+2037
Quadruple prime (  ) U+2057
Modifier letter prime ( ʹ ) U+02B9 ʹ
Modifier letter double prime ( ʺ ) U+02BA ʺ

The "modifier letter prime" and "modifier letter double prime" characters are intended for linguistic purposes, such as the indication of stress or the transliteration of certain Cyrillic characters.

When the character set used does not include the prime or double prime character (e.g., ISO 8859-1 is commonly assumed on IRC), they are often respectively approximated by normal or italic apostrophes and quotation marks.

In LaTeX math mode, f' (f with an apostrophe) is rendered as f'\,\!. Furthermore, LaTeX provides an oversized prime symbol, \prime (\prime) for use in subscripts. For example, f_\prime^\prime appears as f_\prime^\prime.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ E.g., in
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^

External links

  • Unicode General Punctuation code chart
  • Unicode Spacing Modifier Letters code chart
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.