I failed to understand or get interested when mathematical notations/symbols are used in books/tutorials. But, I could understand same things if it is explained in plain English.

Please suggest me how to get rid of this and feel more comfortable with mathematical notations.


The main thing about mathematical notation which I think can be foxy for beginners is that it is plain English.

What do I mean by that? Well, let me give you an example:

Let $\mathbb{N}$ denote the natural numbers.

$\forall x \in \mathbb{N}, $ either $2|x$ or $2|(x+1)$.

Now, this initially looks rather complicated. Let me give you a translation, though:

For all natural numbers $x$ (that is, all non-negative whole numbers), either $x$ is divisible by $2$ or $x+1$ is divisible by $2$ (that is, either $x$ is even or $x$ is odd).

This statement is said concisely with the mathematical notation which I have used - and I'm quite sure that it could have been done even more concisely.

When writing your own mathematics, it is absolutely fine to say everything in words. In fact, as a beginner, it is more than fine. It's a good thing to write down the words, and then see if you can replace some things with more concise notation. That way, you're sure that you know what you mean.

As you get more and more advanced, though, people will expect you to say things in a concise, easily readable manner.

Mathematical notation may seem difficult to read to you now, but with practise it will become easier. It will soon become apparent that it is not only significantly more efficient, but that actually you are simply reading plain English which has been written in a better way.

Recommendations? Practise. If you see a symbol that you don't understand, look it up. If you think that what you are reading does not translate into a perfectly grammatical English sentence, check again.

Finally: You'd be surprised about how many mathematicians actually use commas and full stops in the middle of what might initially (at a glance) seem like streams of opaque equations. I'm one of the people who actually likes to punctuate my mathematics. It makes it clearer in my head when I'm writing it down. And seriously, when I'm writing down mathematics, what is happening in my head is just plain English. I'm just writing down that plain English in a concise form.

Don't be hard on yourself, and don't be impatient. You're learning a new language. Practise practise practise.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +$1$ for "you're learning a new language" $\endgroup$ – postmortes Mar 1 '19 at 11:45

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