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Silly Question. . . Learning the names of properties

  1. Mar 19, 2013 #1
    Over the past couple years, I have self-studied all of the basic mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus).

    When learning something new, my approach has always been to understand the underlying logic of why I was doing what I did.

    I have a bit of a proble, however. I never took the time to learn the "formal" terminology used for various properties amd axioms.

    Example: in algebra, there is the property a(b+c) = ab + ac. I know this intuitively, but I can't remember the name of it. (I had to Google it to find out it's called the distributive property.)

    Here is my question:

    If I want to be a math major, should I go back through all the math textbooks I have and learn the names of these things? (I know it's a silly question, but it's really bugging me.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 19, 2013 #2


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    It's important to know the names of properties like associativity, commutativity, distributivity, and so on, because they are ubiquitous throughout mathematics. However, it's much more important to know the properties themselves. In any case, as you continue to study mathematics, you will encounter and use these terms so often that they will become second nature.
  4. Mar 19, 2013 #3
    The names of these properties become important shorthand when you start doing mathematical proofs. However, I think you will learn them quite easily once you study abstract algebra and linear algebra, where they really come into full play.
  5. Mar 19, 2013 #4
    Getting a degree in math requires going to a university and take math courses - not only to self-study. Going to university usually involves talking with other people, professors and especially fellow students. Like any other language, scientific terminology is best learned by actually using it. You will get familiar with the terminology more or less automatically. You shouldn't worry about this, now.

    EDIT: Oh, and for the record: I find this a perfectly valid concern/question, not a silly one.
  6. Mar 19, 2013 #5
    This isn't really a silly question, there is no such thing! If you are curious about something, then you should always ask questions, no matter how redundant they may seem.

    I'm sure you won't have to look through every math textbook, as long as you understand the properties and know how to apply them, then you should be fine. It is, however, important to know how to use them in certain situations. (Which I'm sure you know how to do.)

    Also, since there are so many different properties, I guarantee you that you won't be able to memorize every single one of them. :tongue:
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