What is a Whole Number in Math?

Whole numbers are a fundamental concept in mathematics and are often one of the first concepts introduced to young learners. They serve as the building blocks of the number system and play a crucial role in various mathematical operations. In this tutorial, we will explore what whole numbers are and how they are used in mathematics.

Definition of Whole Numbers:

Whole numbers are a set of numbers that include all the natural numbers (positive integers) along with zero. In mathematical notation, whole numbers are represented as:

Whole Numbers (W) = {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, …}

Key points:

  • Whole numbers are non-negative integers.
  • They do not include fractions, decimals, or negative numbers.
  • The set of whole numbers starts from zero and extends infinitely in the positive direction.

Whole Numbers

Characteristics of Whole Numbers:

Non-Negative: Whole numbers are always non-negative, which means they are greater than or equal to zero. This property makes them suitable for counting and representing quantities.

Counting: Whole numbers are used for counting and ordering. You can count objects, people, or events using whole numbers. For example, you can count the number of apples in a basket or the days in a week using whole numbers.

Operations: Whole numbers are used in various mathematical operations, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They are the basis for solving mathematical problems.

Examples of Whole Numbers:

  • 0: Zero is the smallest whole number and represents the absence of quantity.
  • 1, 2, 3, 4, …: These are the positive integers and are used for counting.
  • Whole numbers can be used to represent quantities like the number of students in a classroom, the pages in a book, or the temperature in degrees Celsius when it’s above freezing.

Whole Numbers vs. Natural Numbers:

It’s essential to distinguish between whole numbers and natural numbers:

  • Natural Numbers (N) = {1, 2, 3, 4, …}
  • Whole Numbers (W) = {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, …}

Natural numbers start at 1 and extend infinitely, while whole numbers start at 0 and extend infinitely. Whole numbers include zero, which natural numbers do not.

Using Whole Numbers in Math:

Addition: Whole numbers are used for adding quantities. For example, if you have 3 apples and 4 more, you have a total of 7 apples.

Subtraction: Whole numbers are used for finding the difference between quantities. If you have 10 dollars and spend 3, you have 7 dollars left.

Multiplication: Whole numbers are used for repeated addition. For example, 5 x 3 means adding 5 three times, which equals 15.

Division: Whole numbers are used for dividing quantities into equal parts. If you have 12 candies and want to share them equally among 4 friends, each friend gets 3 candies.


Whole numbers are a fundamental concept in mathematics. They are the set of non-negative integers that include zero and are essential for counting, basic arithmetic operations, and representing quantities. Understanding whole numbers is a crucial step in building a strong foundation in mathematics, and they are used extensively in everyday life for various purposes.