The **natural **(or **counting**) **numbers** are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. There are infinitely
many natural numbers. The set of natural numbers
is sometimes written **N** for short.

The **whole numbers** are the natural numbers together with 0.

**Some textbooks** disagree and say the natural numbers include 0.

The sum of any two natural numbers is also a natural number (for example, 4 + 2000 = 2004), and the product of any two natural numbers is a natural number (4 × 2000 = 8000). This is not true for subtraction and division, though.

The **integers** are the set of real numbers consisting of the natural numbers, their additive inverses and zero. The set of integers is sometimes
written **J** or **Z** for short. The
sum, product, and difference of any two integers is also an integer.

But this is not true for division... just try 1 ÷ 2.

The **rational numbers** are
those numbers which can be expressed as a ratio between
two integers. For example, the fractions 1/3 and –1111/8 are both
rational numbers. All the integers are included in the rational numbers,
since any integer *z* can be written as the ratio* z*/1.

All decimals which terminate are rational numbers (since 8.27 can be written as 827/100.) Decimals which have a repeating pattern after some point are also rationals: for example,

0.083333333... = 1/12.

The set of rational numbers is closed under all 4 basic operations, that is, given any two rational numbers, their sum, difference, product, and quotient is also a rational number (as long as we don't divide by 0.)

An **irrational number** is a number that cannot be written as a ratio (or fraction). In decimal form, it never ends or repeats. The
ancient Greeks discovered that not all numbers are rational; there
are equations that cannot be solved using ratios of integers.

The first such equation
to be studied was 2* = x ^{2}. *What
number times itself equals 2?

is
about 1.414, because 1.414^{2} = 1.999396, which is close to
2. But you'll never hit exactly by squaring a fraction (or terminating
decimal). The square root of 2 is an irrational number, meaning its
decimal equivalent goes on forever, with no repeating pattern:

**Historical Note:**

According to legend, the
ancient Greek mathematician who proved that could NOT be written
as a ratio of integers *p*/*q* made his colleagues so
angry that they threw him off a boat and drowned him!

Other famous irrational
numbers are **the golden ratio**, a number with great
importance to biology:

*π* (pi), the
ratio of the cirumference of a circle to its diameter:

*π* = 3.14159265358979...

and *e*,
the most important number in calculus:

*e* = 2.71828182845904...

Irrational numbers can be further subdivided into **algebraic** numbers, which are the solutions of some polynomial equation (like and the golden ratio), and **transcendental **numbers, which are not the solutions of any polynomial equation. *π *and *e* are both transcendental.

The real numbers is the set of numbers containing all of the rational numbers and all of the irrational numbers. The real numbers are “all the numbers” on the number line. There are infinitely many real numbers just as there are infinitely many numbers in each of the other sets of numbers. But, it can be proved that the infinity of the real numbers is a **bigger **infinity.

The "smaller",
or **countable** infinity of the integers and
rationals is sometimes called _{0 }(alef-naught),
and the **uncountable** infinity of the reals
is called _{1 }(alef-one).

There are even "bigger" infinities, but you should take a set theory class for that!

The complex numbers
are the set {*a* + *bi* | *a* and *b* are
real numbers}, where *i * is the imaginary unit, –1. (click here for
more on imaginary numbers and operations with complex numbers).

The complex numbers include the set of real numbers. The real numbers, in the complex system, are written in the form *a *+ 0*i* = *a*. a real number.

This set is sometimes
written as **C** for short. The set of complex numbers
is important because for any polynomial *p*(*x*) with real number
coefficients, all the solutions of *p*(*x*) = 0 will be in **C**.

There are even "bigger" sets
of numbers used by mathematicians. The **quaternions**,
discovered by William H. Hamilton in 1845, form a number system with three
different imaginary units!