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The Natural Numbers

Cardinal numbers describe the size of a collection of objects; two such collections have the same (cardinal) number of objects if their members can be matched in a one-to-one correspondence. Ordinal numbers refer to position relative to an ordering, as first, second, third, etc. The finite cardinal and ordinal numbers are called the natural numbers and are represented by the symbols 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Both types can be generalized to infinite collections, but in this case an essential distinction occurs that requires a different notation for the two types (see transfinite number).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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