Counting from zero

Tom Phoenix rootbeer at
Mon May 1 18:05:21 UTC 2006

On 5/1/06, Laurence Rozier <laurence.rozier at> wrote:

> So true. The admonition "remember arrays start at zero" is repeated
> countless times in most literature. You see this in just about every
> article or book on most modern languages. If it were so "natural" to
> count groups of things from 0 people wouldn't need to be reminded
> constantly.

You're right; it's not natural to count from zero. All those people
who used Roman numerals and similar systems before about the year 600
never thought of it once. It took hundreds more years for the zero to
be in common use; many people simply didn't accept it as a number.

But even then, if they had wished to measured a distance, what number
would have marked the beginning of their measuring tape? If they had
thought to measure time, what number would represent the beginning of
their measurements? How did their census takers report a home without

Although it's not necessarily natural to count from zero, there are
good reasons to teach when, why, and how to count from zero.


--Tom Phoenix

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