Sorry for asking such a basic question - but is there an actual term for the numbers that appear before and after the decimal point? Example:


I know the 1 is in the tenths position, the 8 is in the hundredths position. are there singular terms which apply to all of the numbers that appear both before and after the decimal point?

I'm building a billing system, storing dollars and cents as integers (in separate columns), but for other currencies "dollars" and "cents" are not the correct terms = ). Thanks!

J. M. ain't a mathematician
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Calvin Froedge
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    The part after the decimal is sometimes called the [Mantissa](http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Mantissa.html). There are also articles on the [Fractional Part](http://mathworld.wolfram.com/FractionalPart.html) and [Integer Part](http://mathworld.wolfram.com/IntegerPart.html) on Wolfram which might be helpful. – yunone Sep 13 '11 at 00:37
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    The part before the decimal is sometimes called the [Characteristic](http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Characteristic.html). – user02138 Sep 13 '11 at 00:39
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    I have to say $n$ and $\varepsilon$. – Raphael Jan 20 '12 at 18:57
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    BTW, the most common reason people used to learn these terms is that they were using tables of logarithms. –  Feb 09 '12 at 03:09
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    Can I still call it the "fractional part" if my number is irrational? – Boris Verkhovskiy Nov 17 '19 at 23:08

6 Answers6


There are two terminologies that I'm familiar with. Sometimes, the part to the right of the decimal (cents) is called the mantissa, and the part to the left (dollars, in your metaphor), is called the characteristic.

But I also like the generic terms integer-part and fractional-part. It's what I and those with whom I do research call them (who uses the word mantissa routinely? not me, but perhaps someone). Yes, I know the fractional part doesn't actually have to be a fraction, but that's just something I toss into my big bag of math vagaries.

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  • Thanks, dude! Appreciate the help. – Calvin Froedge Sep 13 '11 at 01:05
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    For what it's worth, in the context of floating-point computer arithmetic, "mantissa" is standard terminology for the "234" part of exponential notations such as "$1.234\times 10^{56}$". – hmakholm left over Monica Sep 13 '11 at 01:22
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    The integer and fractional parts of -2.3 are -3 and .7, respectively, despite what some calculators say. What are the characteristic and mantissa of -2.3, I wonder. – Gerry Myerson Sep 13 '11 at 01:41
  • @Gerry: Oh, good point. I hadn't thought of that. I do number theory - we don't believe in negative numbers ;p – davidlowryduda Sep 13 '11 at 01:42
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    According to MathWorld, the mantissa of a real number is $x - \lfloor x\rfloor$, so the mantissa of -2.3 is 0.7. On the other hand, [MathWorld disagrees](http://mathworld.wolfram.com/FractionalPart.html) with @Gerry (and according to the linked article itself, with probably most mathematicians) in defining the "fractional part" of negative numbers to be $x - \lceil x\rceil$, which would give the fractional part of -2.3 to be -0.3. I assume this convention is due to some implementation convenience for Mathematica. – Willie Wong Sep 13 '11 at 01:54
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    According to Wikipedia the use of *mantissa* is discouraged as it has a different meaning when talking about logarithms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Significand – Highly Irregular Jan 15 '12 at 21:58
  • This would depend on how you define the decimal - the 'best' route to take is to define a decimal expansion for elements of (0,1) and then use addition of addition to obtain all real numbers. In this case -2.3 = -3 + 0.7 which means 0.7 is the fractional point of -2.3, no? – Adam Jan 20 '12 at 19:48
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    @HenningMakholm In computer arithmetic, don't we usually use "Mantissa" for *everything* except the exponent? This is also what Wikipedia says here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantissa "The significand of floating-point number or scientific notation". – Jan-Philip Gehrcke Mar 06 '13 at 18:09
  • @Jan-PhilipGehrcke: I've never heard anyone use "mantissa" to include the sign bit. – hmakholm left over Monica Mar 06 '13 at 21:07
  • @HenningMakholm the Wikipedia article is not clear about the sign bit. But it is clear about the mantissa "consisting of [the] significant digits" – Jan-Philip Gehrcke Mar 07 '13 at 07:40
  • @Jan-PhilipGehrcke: I'm not sure which point you're making, then. It sounds like we're in agreement about which bits are the mantissa. – hmakholm left over Monica Mar 07 '13 at 17:56
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    This discussion is not so important to me anyway. But my point was the following: You said "mantissa is standard terminology for the `234` part of exponential notations such as `1.234 × 10e56`". According to that wikipedia article, however, the mantissa is the `1.234` part, so including the `1.`. That's the difference. – Jan-Philip Gehrcke Mar 07 '13 at 18:48
  • @Jan-PhilipGehrcke - in the standard IEEE floating point number, there are no digits stored to the left of the (decimal? binary?) point, but there is an implied 1. This leads to disagreement over whether the 1 (the "hidden bit") is included as part of the mantissa or not. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Significand#Significands_and_the_hidden_bit – Jules Jun 01 '17 at 05:45

Since the term "Mantissa" can refer to the "Fractional part" of the number for logs, and it can also refer to the "Integer part" and "Fractional part" of the number (combined, without the "Exponent part") for numbers in scientific notation and floating point... it is an ambiguous term and should be avoided.

"Significand" is also not appropriate since it also refers to the "Integer part" and "Fractional part" of the number (combined, without the "Exponent part"), for numbers in scientific notation and floating point.

I prefer to use the terms "Integer digits" and "Fractional digits" (or "Integer part" and "Fractional part").

As far as the method to capture the "Integer digits" and "Fractional digits" for a negative number. Given a negative number like n = -2.3:

(Perhaps this is not important to you because your numbers (data) may all be positive numbers).

Method 1:
While it may be correct from a purely technical or academic standpoint to split this up as:
"Integer digits" = (-)3
"Fractional digits" = (+).7

It may not make sense for you depending on how you will use it.

If you will be treating these parts of the number, also as numbers (rather than "Strings"), and you will at some time combine these two number parts back into the original number, this method has the advantage that you can simply add the two parts of the number together to get the original number back: (-)3 + (+).7 = (-)2.3.

Method 2:
You could get the same effect by storing the sign of the number with each part of the number:
"Integer digits" = (-)2 "Fractional digits" = (-).3

This will also allow you to simply add the two parts of the number together to get the original number back: (-)2 + (-).3 = (-)2.3.

But, perhaps your purpose of breaking the number up is to facilitate displaying the number in a particular way. Neither of these methods would be very useful for this purpose, particularly if you were storing the number parts as strings. Storing the number parts using the first method would take some odd Mathematical gymnastics to get a printable version of the number back.

My recommendation is Method 3:
Split the number up like this:

  1. Given a number "n" like n = -2.3 or n = 2.3
  2. Store the "Sign" of the number:   s = Sgn(n)
    Or as boolean:   s = (n >= 0)
  3. Remove the "Sign" of the number   n = Abs(n)
  4. Save "Integer digits" portion:   i = Fix(n)
  5. Save "Decimal digits" portion:   d = n - i
    Or as "String":   d = Mid(CStr(n - i), 3)
    Or as "Integer":   d = ((n - i) * 10000)
Kevin Fegan
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"scale of a number":

Scale is the number of digits to the right of the decimal point in a number. For example, the number 123.45 has a precision of 5 and a scale of 2.

bc - The arbitrary precision calculator - defines it for us in their documentation. For example, type man bc on your linux terminal

       The most basic element in bc is the number.  Numbers are arbitrary pre‐
       cision numbers.  This precision is both in the  integer  part  and  the
       fractional part.  All numbers are represented internally in decimal and
       all computation is done in decimal.  (This  version  truncates  results
       from divide and multiply operations.)  There are two attributes of num‐
       bers, the length and the scale.  The length is the total number of dec‐
       imal digits used by bc to represent a number and the scale is the total
       number of decimal digits after the decimal point.  For example:
               .000001 has a length of 6 and scale of 6.
               1935.000 has a length of 7 and a scale of 3.

Please see "scale" referenced in another similar question in the StackExchange network, and some oracle database documentation for the NUMBER datatype that is quoted below:

Optionally, you can also specify a precision (total number of digits) and scale (number of digits to the right of the decimal point):

column_name NUMBER (precision, scale)

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Sometimes, the part to the right of the decimal point is called the mantissa, while the part to the left is called the characteristics.


We adopted the terms, 'characteristic' and 'mantissa' to label the numbers before and after decimal points from Euler. It is not known until Euler used these terms in describing the parts of logarithm in the 18th century.

But using these two terms seems not a good option for your billing system to represent numbers in various currencies.

Your options then:

  1. integer_digit and fractional_digit - as suggested above.
  2. whole_digit and decimal_digit - for positive numbers.
  3. whole and decimal - keep it really short.
  4. integer_digit and decimal_digit - including negative numbers.

I think it still makes sense to use 'whole' and 'decimal' terms since you are storing them per column in your billing system.

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the number before the decimal point is called the whole number while the number after the decimal point is called the part of a whole


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