# What Does the Math Word “Difference” Mean?

In math, the difference is what you get when you subtract one number from another. It is the same as taking something out of a collection. The word “difference” is used by mathematicians because it shows how much the two numbers in a subtraction problem are different.

There are three parts to a basic subtraction problem: the minuend, the subtrahend, and the difference. The number that comes first in the problem is called the minuend. This is the number that will be taken away.

The amount that is being taken away from the minuend is the subtrahend. The difference is the amount of space between the minuend and the subtrahend. It comes after the equals sign.

If the minuend is bigger than the subtrahend, the difference is always positive. The difference is always negative if the minuend is less than the subtrahend. Differences and sums are the last things to be done in the order of operations. So, to figure out a difference before an exponent, product, or quotient, you need to use parentheses.

Use partial differences to take away big numbers by hand. These depend on taking away digits from certain places instead of the whole number. For instance, the difference between 753 and 491 is 700 and 400.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.