Prime (symbol)

Prime (symbol)

apostrophe ( ’ ' )
brackets ( [ ], ( ), { }, ⟨ ⟩ )
colon ( : )
comma ( , )
dash ( , –, —, ― )
ellipsis ( …, ..., . . . )
exclamation mark ( ! )
full stop/period ( . )
guillemets ( « » )
hyphen ( )
hyphen-minus ( - )
question mark ( ? )
quotation marks ( ‘ ’, “ ”, ' ', " " )
semicolon ( ; )
slash/stroke ( / )
solidus ( )
Word dividers
space ( ) ( ) ( ) (␠) (␢) (␣)
interpunct ( · )
General typography
ampersand ( & )
at sign ( @ )
asterisk ( * )
backslash ( \ )
bullet ( )
caret ( ^ )
copyright symbol ( © )
dagger ( †, ‡ )
degree ( ° )
ditto mark ( )
inverted exclamation mark ( ¡ )
inverted question mark ( ¿ )
number sign/pound/hash ( # )
numero sign ( )
obelus ( ÷ )
ordinal indicator ( º, ª )
percent etc. ( %, ‰, )
pilcrow ( )
prime ( ′, ″, ‴ )
registered trademark ( ® )
section sign ( § )
service mark ( )
sound recording copyright ( )
tilde ( ~ )
trademark ( )
underscore/understrike ( _ )
vertical/broken bar, pipe ( ¦, | )
currency (generic) ( ¤ )
currency (specific)
( ฿ ¢ $ ƒ £ ¥ )
Uncommon typography
asterism ( )
tee ( )
up tack ( )
index/fist ( )
therefore sign ( )
because sign ( )
interrobang ( )
irony & sarcasm punctuation ( )
lozenge ( )
reference mark ( )
tie ( )
Diacritical marks
Whitespace characters
non-English quotation style ( « », „ ” )
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The prime symbol ( ′ ), double prime symbol ( ″ ), and triple prime symbol (  ), etc., are used to designate several different units, and for various other purposes in mathematics, the sciences and linguistics. The prime symbol should not be confused with the apostrophe, single quotation mark, acute accent or grave accent; the double prime should not be confused with the double quotation mark,[1] the ditto mark, or the letter double apostrophe.


Designation of units

The prime symbol ( ′ ) is commonly used to represent feet (ft), arcminutes (am) and minutes (min).

The double prime ( ″ ) represents inches (in), arcseconds (as) and seconds (s).

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 17th- and 18th-century astronomical works to denote \tfrac{1}{60} of a second of arc.[2]

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 (xy), 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 frame S has coordinates (x′, y′, z′, t′) in frame S′.

In chemistry, it is used to distinguish between different functional groups connected to an atom in a molecule, such as R and R′, representing different alkyl groups in a ketone.

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 hanging from the ends of the molecule. 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 Russian, to denote palatalization.

In transcribing Arabic, the prime symbol separates two letters that represent two different sounds, when the combination might otherwise be read as a digraph. For example s′h represents the two sounds s and h, rather than the single sound sh.

The prime is also used in X-bar theory instead of a bar to indicate bar-levels in syntactic structures, because the bar was difficult to typeset. This is still read as "X bar", not "X prime".

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. (Where L means "Turn the face on the left 90 degrees clockwise", L' means "turn the left face 90 degrees anti-clockwise".)


The name "prime" is something of a misnomer. 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".[citation needed]


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
Quadruple prime (  ) U+2057
Modifier letter prime ( ʹ ) U+02B9
Modifier letter double prime ( ʺ ) U+02BA

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. ^ Goldberg, Ron (2000). "Quotes". In Frank J. Romano. Digital Typography: Practical Advice for Getting the Type You Want When You Want It. San Diego: Windsor Professional Information. pp. 67–69. ISBN 1-893190-05-6. OCLC 44619239. 
  2. ^ e.g., in Herschel, William (1785). "Catalogue of Double Stars". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 75: 40–126. doi:10.1098/rstl.1785.0006. JSTOR 106749. 

External links

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