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Arabic numerals, also called Hindu-Arabic numerals, are the most common symbols used to represent numbers. Every number can be expressed in Arabic numerals by using 10 basic symbols, alone or in combination. The basic symbols, called digits, are: 0, 1, 2, 3 , 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. The position of a digit in an Arabic numeral determines its value. For example, the Arabic numeral for the number two hundred and thirty-seven is the sequence of digits 237. In this numeral, the digit 2 has a value of two hundre d , the digit 3 has a value of thirty, and the digit 7 has a value of seven. The Arabic numeral for the number seven thousand and three is 7,003. In this case, the digit 7 has a value of seven thousand, and the digit 3 has a value of three. The digit 0 ( zero) fills empty positions so that the other digits have their proper values.

Scholars do not know how Arabic numerals originated. But the symbols for all the digits except zero probably originated with the Hindus in India, possibly as early as the 200's BC The Hindus developed the zero sometime after AD 600. The word zero probably comes from the Arabic word sifr, a translation of the Hindu wordsunya, which means empty.

Traders and merchants helped spread the Arabic numeral system across the Mediterranean region, especially into Spain. Beginning in the 800's, merchants and scholars introduced it throughout the rest of Europe. The system came into general use in Europe when the digit symbols were standardized, following the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400's.


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