Zero to the power of zero

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Zero to the power of zero, denoted by 00, is a mathematical expression with no necessarily obvious value. Possibilities include 0, 1, or leaving the expression undefined altogether, and there is no consensus as to which approach is best. Several justifications exist for each of the possibilities, and they are outlined below. In algebra or set theory, the generally agreed upon answer is 00 = 1, whereas in analysis, the expression is generally left undefined. Computer programs also have differing ways of handling this expression.

Discrete exponents[edit]

There are many widely used formulas having terms involving natural-number exponents that require 00 to be evaluated to 1. For example, regarding b0 as an empty product assigns it the value 1, even when b = 0. Alternatively, the combinatorial interpretation of b0 is the number of empty tuples of elements from a set with b elements; there is exactly one empty tuple, even if b = 0. Equivalently, the set-theoretic interpretation of 00 is the number of functions from the empty set to the empty set; there is exactly one such function, the empty function.[1]

Polynomials and power series[edit]

Likewise, when working with polynomials, it is often necessary to assign the value 1. A polynomial is an expression of the form where x is an indeterminate, and the coefficients are real numbers (or, more generally, elements of some ring). The set of all real polynomials in x is denoted by . Polynomials are added termwise, and multiplied by the applying the usual rules for exponents in the indeterminate x (see Cauchy product). With these algebraic rules for manipulation, polynomials form a polynomial ring. The polynomial is the identity element of the polynomial ring, meaning that it is the (unique) element such that the product of with any polynomial is just .[2] Polynomials can be evaluated by specializing the indeterminate x to be a real number. More precisely, for any given real number there is a unique unital ring homomorphism such that .[3] This is called the evaluation homomorphism. Because it is a unital homomorphism, we have That is, for all specializations of x to a real number (including zero).

This perspective is significant for many polynomial identities appearing in combinatorics. For example, the binomial theorem is not valid for x = 0 unless 00 = 1.[4] Similarly, rings of power series require to be true for all specializations of x. Thus identities like and are only true as functional identities (including at x = 0) if 00 = 1.

In differential calculus, the power rule is not valid for n = 1 at x = 0 unless 00 = 1.

Continuous exponents[edit]

Plot of z = xy. The red curves (with z constant) yield different limits as (x, y) approaches (0, 0). The green curves (of finite constant slope, y = ax) all yield a limit of 1.

Limits involving algebraic operations can often be evaluated by replacing subexpressions by their limits; if the resulting expression does not determine the original limit, the expression is known as an indeterminate form.[5] In fact, when f(t) and g(t) are real-valued functions both approaching 0 (as t approaches a real number or ±∞), with f(t) > 0, the function f(t)g(t) need not approach 1; depending on f and g, the limit of f(t)g(t) can be any nonnegative real number or +∞, or it can diverge. For example, the functions below are of the form f(t)g(t) with f(t), g(t) → 0 as t → 0+, but the limits are different:


Thus, the two-variable function xy, though continuous on the set {(x, y) : x > 0}, cannot be extended to a continuous function on any set containing (0, 0), no matter how one chooses to define 00.[6] However, under certain conditions, such as when f and g are both analytic functions and f is positive on the open interval (0, b) for some positive b, the limit approaching from the right is always 1.[7][8][9]

Complex exponents[edit]

In the complex domain, the function zw may be defined for nonzero z by choosing a branch of log z and defining zw as ew log z. This does not define 0w since there is no branch of log z defined at z = 0, let alone in a neighborhood of 0.[10][11][12]

History of differing points of view[edit]

The debate over the definition of has been going on at least since the early 19th century. At that time, most mathematicians agreed that , until in 1821 Cauchy[13] listed along with expressions like in a table of indeterminate forms. In the 1830s Libri[14][15] published an unconvincing argument for , and Möbius[16] sided with him, erroneously claiming that whenever . A commentator who signed his name simply as "S" provided the counterexample of , and this quieted the debate for some time. More historical details can be found in Knuth (1992).[17]

More recent authors interpret the situation above in different ways:

  • Some argue that the best value for depends on context, and hence that defining it once and for all is problematic.[18] According to Benson (1999), "[t]he choice whether to define is based on convenience, not on correctness. If we refrain from defining , then certain assertions become unnecessarily awkward. [...] The consensus is to use the definition , although there are textbooks that refrain from defining ."[19]
  • Others argue that should be defined as 1. Knuth (1992) contends strongly that "has to be 1", drawing a distinction between the value , which should equal 1 as advocated by Libri, and the limiting form (an abbreviation for a limit of where ), which is necessarily an indeterminate form as listed by Cauchy: "Both Cauchy and Libri were right, but Libri and his defenders did not understand why truth was on their side."[17]

Treatment on computers[edit]

IEEE floating-point standard[edit]

The IEEE 754-2008 floating-point standard is used in the design of most floating-point libraries. It recommends a number of operations for computing a power:[20]

  • pow treats 00 as 1. If the power is an exact integer the result is the same as for pown, otherwise the result is as for powr (except for some exceptional cases).
  • pown treats 00 as 1. The power must be an exact integer. The value is defined for negative bases; e.g., pown(−3,5) is −243.
  • powr treats 00 as NaN (Not-a-Number – undefined). The value is also NaN for cases like powr(−3,2) where the base is less than zero. The value is defined by epower×log(base).

The pow variant is inspired by the pow function from C99, mainly for compatibility.[21] It is useful mostly for languages with a single power function. The pown and powr variants have been introduced due to conflicting usage of the power functions and the different points of view (as stated above).[22]

Programming languages[edit]

The C and C++ standards do not specify the result of 00 (a domain error may occur), but as of C99, if the normative annex F is supported, the result is required to be 1 because this value is more useful than NaN for significant applications[23] (for instance, with discrete exponents). The Java standard[24] and the .NET Framework method System.Math.Pow[25] also treat 00 as 1.

Mathematics software[edit]

  • SageMath simplifies b0 to 1, even if no constraints are placed on b.[26] It takes 00 to be 1, but does not simplify 0x for other x.
  • Maple distinguishes between integers 0, 1, ... and the corresponding floats 0.0, 1.0, ... (usually denoted 0., 1., ...). If x does not evaluate to a number, then x0 and x0.0 are respectively evaluated to 1 (integer) and 1.0 (float); on the other hand, 0x is evaluated to the integer 0, while 0.0x is evaluated as 0.x. If both the base and the exponent are zero (or are evaluated to zero), the result is Float(undefined) if the exponent is the float 0.0; with an integer as exponent, the evaluation of 00 results in the integer 1, while that of 0.0 results in the float 1.0.
  • Macsyma also simplifies b0 to 1 even if no constraints are placed on b, but issues an error for 00. For x>0, it simplifies 0x to 0.[citation needed]
  • Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha simplify b0 into 1, even if no constraints are placed on b.[27] While Mathematica does not simplify 0x, Wolfram Alpha returns two results, 0 for x > 0, and "indeterminate" for real x.[28] Both Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha take 00 to be "(indeterminate)".[29]
  • Matlab, Python, Magma, GAP, singular, PARI/GP and the Google and iPhone calculators evaluate 00 as 1.


  1. ^ N. Bourbaki, Elements of Mathematics, Theory of Sets, Springer-Verlag, 2004, III.§3.5.
  2. ^ Nicolas Bourbaki (1970). Algèbre. Springer. , §III.2 No. 9: "L'unique monôme de degré 0 est l'élément unité de ; on l'identifie souvent à l'élément unité 1 de ".
  3. ^ Nicolas Bourbaki (1970). Algèbre. Springer. , §IV.1 No. 3.
  4. ^ "Some textbooks leave the quantity 00 undefined, because the functions x0 and 0x have different limiting values when x decreases to 0. But this is a mistake. We must define x0 = 1, for all x, if the binomial theorem is to be valid when x = 0, y = 0, and/or x = −y. The binomial theorem is too important to be arbitrarily restricted! By contrast, the function 0x is quite unimportant".Ronald Graham, Donald Knuth, and Oren Patashnik (1989-01-05). "Binomial coefficients". Concrete Mathematics (1st ed.). Addison Wesley Longman Publishing Co. p. 162. ISBN 0-201-14236-8. 
  5. ^ Malik, S. C.; Savita Arora (1992). Mathematical Analysis. New York: Wiley. p. 223. ISBN 978-81-224-0323-7. In general the limit of φ(x)/ψ(x) when 1=x = a in case the limits of both the functions exist is equal to the limit of the numerator divided by the denominator. But what happens when both limits are zero? The division (0/0) then becomes meaningless. A case like this is known as an indeterminate form. Other such forms are ∞/∞ 0 × ∞, ∞ − ∞, 00, 1 and ∞0. 
  6. ^ L. J. Paige (March 1954). "A note on indeterminate forms". American Mathematical Monthly. 61 (3): 189–190. doi:10.2307/2307224. JSTOR 2307224. 
  7. ^ sci.math FAQ: What is 0^0?
  8. ^ Rotando, Louis M.; Korn, Henry (1977). "The Indeterminate Form 00". Mathematics Magazine. Mathematical Association of America. 50 (1): 41–42. doi:10.2307/2689754. JSTOR 2689754. 
  9. ^ Lipkin, Leonard J. (2003). "On the Indeterminate Form 00". The College Mathematics Journal. Mathematical Association of America. 34 (1): 55–56. doi:10.2307/3595845. JSTOR 3595845. 
  10. ^ "Since log(0) does not exist, 0z is undefined. For Re(z) > 0, we define it arbitrarily as 0." George F. Carrier, Max Krook and Carl E. Pearson, Functions of a Complex Variable: Theory and Technique , 2005, p. 15
  11. ^ "For z = 0, w ≠ 0, we define 0w = 0, while 00 is not defined." Mario Gonzalez, Classical Complex Analysis, Chapman & Hall, 1991, p. 56.
  12. ^ "... Let's start at x = 0. Here xx is undefined." Mark D. Meyerson, The xx Spindle, Mathematics Magazine 69, no. 3 (June 1996), 198-206.
  13. ^ Augustin-Louis Cauchy, Cours d'Analyse de l'École Royale Polytechnique (1821). In his Oeuvres Complètes, series 2, volume 3.
  14. ^ Guillaume Libri, Note sur les valeurs de la fonction 00x, Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik 6 (1830), 67–72.
  15. ^ Guillaume Libri, Mémoire sur les fonctions discontinues, Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik 10 (1833), 303–316.
  16. ^ A. F. Möbius (1834). "Beweis der Gleichung 00 = 1, nach J. F. Pfaff" [Proof of the equation 00 = 1, according to J. F. Pfaff]. Journal für die reine und angewandte Mathematik. 12: 134–136. 
  17. ^ a b Donald E. Knuth, Two notes on notation, Amer. Math. Monthly 99 no. 5 (May 1992), 403–422 (arXiv:math/9205211 [math.HO]).
  18. ^ Examples include Edwards and Penny (1994). Calculus, 4th ed, Prentice-Hall, p. 466, and Keedy, Bittinger, and Smith (1982). Algebra Two. Addison-Wesley, p. 32.
  19. ^ Donald C. Benson, The Moment of Proof : Mathematical Epiphanies. New York Oxford University Press (UK), 1999. ISBN 978-0-19-511721-9
  20. ^ Muller, Jean-Michel; Brisebarre, Nicolas; de Dinechin, Florent; Jeannerod, Claude-Pierre; Lefèvre, Vincent; Melquiond, Guillaume; Revol, Nathalie; Stehlé, Damien; Torres, Serge (2010). Handbook of Floating-Point Arithmetic (1 ed.). Birkhäuser. p. 216. doi:10.1007/978-0-8176-4705-6. LCCN 2009939668.  ISBN 978-0-8176-4705-6 (online), ISBN 0-8176-4704-X (print)
  21. ^ (beginning of the discussion about the power functions for the revision of the IEEE 754 standard, May 2007)
  22. ^ (suggestion of variants in the discussion about the power functions for the revision of the IEEE 754 standard, May 2007)
  23. ^ John Benito (April 2003). "Rationale for International Standard—Programming Languages—C" (PDF). Revision 5.10: 182. 
  24. ^ "Math (Java Platform SE 8) pow". Oracle. 
  25. ^ ".NET Framework Class Library Math.Pow Method". Microsoft. 
  26. ^ "Sage worksheet calculating x^0". Jason Grout. 
  27. ^ "Wolfram Alpha calculates b^0". Wolfram Alpha LLC, accessed April 25, 2015. 
  28. ^ "Wolfram Alpha calculates 0^x". Wolfram Alpha LLC, accessed April 25, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Wolfram Alpha calculates 0^0". Wolfram Alpha LLC, accessed April 25, 2015. 

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