Numeric Symbols

Let's look at some different shapes and words used to describe numbers and values. There are dozens of ways that the world may describe the value of "one". The big idea to remember is that the value is always a "one". Whether it is un, uno, or I, it still stands for "one". The ideas in math are universal even though the names and shapes may change.


The Roman civilization was around about 2,000 years ago. They built a number system that was based on letters in their alphabet. Some values like I (one), II (two), and III (three) are easy. They also used letters that included V (five), X (ten), and L (fifty).

Samples of Roman numbers.


The Maya civilization from Central America developed a number system based on tens, but used circles and bars to represent their numbers. You should be able to see the pattern quickly.


The Chinese language often uses symbols to represent longer words that we might write out. Each of those symbols can be used to represent a number.


We wanted to add a bit about English because you will need to know how to write out numbers in many word problems. Knowing numbers will get you a long way in math, but you also need to know that the word "eight" is the same thing as the number "8". There will always be word problems on your tests. You need to be able to understand the written words that represent numbers.

English words for the numbers one through twelve.

Modern Math Symbols

These are the big ten shapes used to represent numbers in the modern world. They were first developed in India about 1,500 years ago (especially the number zero). The first row introduces you to the numbers. We added a second row of many symbols you might see next to those numbers when you are first learning math.

A sample of numbers using the current numbering symbols.

Related Activities

Numbers and Counting Activity Roman Symbols Memory Challenge
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Numbers and Counting Activity Chinese Symbols Memory Challenge
- Play Activity


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