In mathematics, the absolute value or modulus x of a real number x is the nonnegative value of x without regard to its sign. Namely, x = x for a positive x, x = −x for a negative x (in which case −x is positive), and 0 = 0. For example, the absolute value of 3 is 3, and the absolute value of −3 is also 3. The absolute value of a number may be thought of as its distance from zero.
Generalisations of the absolute value for real numbers occur in a wide variety of mathematical settings. For example, an absolute value is also defined for the complex numbers, the quaternions, ordered rings, fields and vector spaces. The absolute value is closely related to the notions of magnitude, distance, and norm in various mathematical and physical contexts.
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Contents
Terminology and notation
In 1806, JeanRobert Argand introduced the term module, meaning unit of measure in French, specifically for the complex absolute value,^{[1]}^{[2]} and it was borrowed into English in 1866 as the Latin equivalent modulus.^{[1]} The term absolute value has been used in this sense from at least 1806 in French^{[3]} and 1857 in English.^{[4]} The notation x, with a vertical bar on each side, was introduced by Karl Weierstrass in 1841.^{[5]} Other names for absolute value include numerical value^{[1]} and magnitude.^{[1]} In programming languages and computational software packages, the absolute value of x is generally represented by abs(x), or a similar expression.
The vertical bar notation also appears in a number of other mathematical contexts: for example, when applied to a set, it denotes its cardinality; when applied to a matrix, it denotes its determinant. Vertical bars denote the absolute value only for algebraic objects for which the notion of an absolute value is defined, notably an element of a normed division algebra, for example a real number, a complex number, or a quaternion. A closely related but distinct notation is the use of vertical bars for either the euclidean norm^{[6]} or sup norm^{[7]} of a vector in , although double vertical bars with subscripts ( and , respectively) are a more common and less ambiguous notation.
Definition and properties
Real numbers
For any real number x, the absolute value or modulus of x is denoted by x (a vertical bar on each side of the quantity) and is defined as^{[8]}
The absolute value of x is thus always either positive or zero, but never negative: when x itself is negative (x < 0), then its absolute value is necessarily positive (x = −x > 0).
From an analytic geometry point of view, the absolute value of a real number is that number's distance from zero along the real number line, and more generally the absolute value of the difference of two real numbers is the distance between them. Indeed, the notion of an abstract distance function in mathematics can be seen to be a generalisation of the absolute value of the difference (see "Distance" below).
Since the square root symbol represents the unique positive square root (when applied to a positive number), it follows that
is equivalent to the definition above, and may be used as an alternative definition of the absolute value of real numbers.^{[9]}
The absolute value has the following four fundamental properties (a, b are real numbers), that are used for generalization of this notion to other domains:
Nonnegativity Positivedefiniteness Multiplicativity Subadditivity, specifically the triangle inequality
Nonnegativity, positive definiteness, and multiplicativity are readily apparent from the definition. To see that subadditivity holds, first note that one of the two alternatives of taking s as either –1 or +1 guarantees that Now, since and , it follows that, whichever is the value of s, one has for all real . Consequently, , as desired. (For a generalization of this argument to complex numbers, see "Proof of the triangle inequality for complex numbers" below.)
Some additional useful properties are given below. These are either immediate consequences of the definition or implied by the four fundamental properties above.
Idempotence (the absolute value of the absolute value is the absolute value) Evenness (reflection symmetry of the graph) Identity of indiscernibles (equivalent to positivedefiniteness) Triangle inequality (equivalent to subadditivity) (if ) Preservation of division (equivalent to multiplicativity) Reverse triangle inequality (equivalent to subadditivity)
Two other useful properties concerning inequalities are:
 or
These relations may be used to solve inequalities involving absolute values. For example:
The absolute value, as "distance from zero", is used to define the absolute difference between arbitrary real numbers, the standard metric on the real numbers.
Complex numbers
Since the complex numbers are not ordered, the definition given at the top for the real absolute value cannot be directly applied to complex numbers. However, the geometric interpretation of the absolute value of a real number as its distance from 0 can be generalised. The absolute value of a complex number is defined by the Euclidean distance of its corresponding point in the complex plane from the origin. This can be computed using the Pythagorean theorem: for any complex number
where x and y are real numbers, the absolute value or modulus of z is denoted z and is defined by^{[10]}
where Re(z) = x and Im(z) = y denote the real and imaginary parts of z, respectively. When the imaginary part y is zero, this coincides with the definition of the absolute value of the real number x.
When a complex number z is expressed in its polar form as
with (and θ ∈ arg(z) is the argument (or phase) of z), its absolute value is
 .
Since the product of any complex number z and its complex conjugate with the same absolute value, is always the nonnegative real number , the absolute value of a complex number can be conveniently expressed as
resembling the alternative definition for reals:
The complex absolute value shares the four fundamental properties given above for the real absolute value.
In the language of group theory, the multiplicative property may be rephrased as follows: the absolute value is a group homomorphism from the multiplicative group of the complex numbers onto the group under multiplication of positive real numbers.^{[11]}
Importantly, the property of subadditivity ("triangle inequality") extends to any finite collection of n complex numbers as
This inequality also applies to infinite families, provided that the infinite series is absolutely convergent. If Lebesgue integration is viewed as the continuous analog of summation, then this inequality is analogously obeyed by complexvalued, measurable functions when integrated over a measurable subset :
(This includes Riemannintegrable functions over a bounded interval as a special case.)
Proof of the complex triangle inequality
The triangle inequality, as given by , can be demonstrated by applying three easily verified properties of the complex numbers: Namely, for every complex number ,
 (i): there exists such that and ;
 (ii): .
Also, for a family of complex numbers , . In particular,
 (iii): if , then .
Proof of : Choose such that and (summed over ). The following computation then affords the desired inequality:
 .
It is clear from this proof that equality holds in exactly if all the are nonnegative real numbers, which in turn occurs exactly if all nonzero have the same argument, i.e., for a complex constant and real constants for .
Since measurable implies that is also measurable, the proof of the inequality proceeds via the same technique, by replacing with and with .^{[12]}
Absolute value function
The real absolute value function is continuous everywhere. It is differentiable everywhere except for x = 0. It is monotonically decreasing on the interval (−∞,0] and monotonically increasing on the interval [0,+∞). Since a real number and its opposite have the same absolute value, it is an even function, and is hence not invertible. The real absolute value function is a piecewise linear, convex function.
Both the real and complex functions are idempotent.
Relationship to the sign function
The absolute value function of a real number returns its value irrespective of its sign, whereas the sign (or signum) function returns a number's sign irrespective of its value. The following equations show the relationship between these two functions:
or
and for x ≠ 0,
Derivative
The real absolute value function has a derivative for every x ≠ 0, but is not differentiable at x = 0. Its derivative for x ≠ 0 is given by the step function:^{[13]}^{[14]}
The subdifferential of x at x = 0 is the interval [−1,1].^{[15]}
The complex absolute value function is continuous everywhere but complex differentiable nowhere because it violates the Cauchy–Riemann equations.^{[13]}
The second derivative of x with respect to x is zero everywhere except zero, where it does not exist. As a generalised function, the second derivative may be taken as two times the Dirac delta function.
Antiderivative
The antiderivative (indefinite integral) of the real absolute value function is
where C is an arbitrary constant of integration. This is not a complex antiderivative because complex antiderivatives can only exist for complexdifferentiable (holomorphic) functions, which the complex absolute value function is not.
Distance
The absolute value is closely related to the idea of distance. As noted above, the absolute value of a real or complex number is the distance from that number to the origin, along the real number line, for real numbers, or in the complex plane, for complex numbers, and more generally, the absolute value of the difference of two real or complex numbers is the distance between them.
The standard Euclidean distance between two points
and
in Euclidean nspace is defined as:
This can be seen as a generalisation, since for and real, i.e. in a 1space, according to the alternative definition of the absolute value,
and for and complex numbers, i.e. in a 2space,
The above shows that the "absolute value"distance, for real and complex numbers, agrees with the standard Euclidean distance, which they inherit as a result of considering them as one and twodimensional Euclidean spaces, respectively.
The properties of the absolute value of the difference of two real or complex numbers: nonnegativity, identity of indiscernibles, symmetry and the triangle inequality given above, can be seen to motivate the more general notion of a distance function as follows:
A real valued function d on a set X × X is called a metric (or a distance function) on X, if it satisfies the following four axioms:^{[16]}
Nonnegativity Identity of indiscernibles Symmetry Triangle inequality
Generalizations
Ordered rings
The definition of absolute value given for real numbers above can be extended to any ordered ring. That is, if a is an element of an ordered ring R, then the absolute value of a, denoted by a, is defined to be:^{[17]}
where −a is the additive inverse of a, 0 is the additive identity element, and < and ≥ have the usual meaning with respect to the ordering in the ring.
Fields
The four fundamental properties of the absolute value for real numbers can be used to generalise the notion of absolute value to an arbitrary field, as follows.
A realvalued function v on a field F is called an absolute value (also a modulus, magnitude, value, or valuation)^{[18]} if it satisfies the following four axioms:
Nonnegativity Positivedefiniteness Multiplicativity Subadditivity or the triangle inequality
Where 0 denotes the additive identity element of F. It follows from positivedefiniteness and multiplicativity that v(1) = 1, where 1 denotes the multiplicative identity element of F. The real and complex absolute values defined above are examples of absolute values for an arbitrary field.
If v is an absolute value on F, then the function d on F × F, defined by d(a, b) = v(a − b), is a metric and the following are equivalent:
 d satisfies the ultrametric inequality for all x, y, z in F.
 is bounded in R.
 for every
 for all
 for all
An absolute value which satisfies any (hence all) of the above conditions is said to be nonArchimedean, otherwise it is said to be Archimedean.^{[19]}
Vector spaces
Again the fundamental properties of the absolute value for real numbers can be used, with a slight modification, to generalise the notion to an arbitrary vector space.
A realvalued function on a vector space V over a field F, represented as ‖·‖, is called an absolute value, but more usually a norm, if it satisfies the following axioms:
For all a in F, and v, u in V,
Nonnegativity Positivedefiniteness Positive homogeneity or positive scalability Subadditivity or the triangle inequality
The norm of a vector is also called its length or magnitude.
In the case of Euclidean space R^{n}, the function defined by
is a norm called the Euclidean norm. When the real numbers R are considered as the onedimensional vector space R^{1}, the absolute value is a norm, and is the pnorm (see L^{p} space) for any p. In fact the absolute value is the "only" norm on R^{1}, in the sense that, for every norm ‖·‖ on R^{1}, ‖x‖ = ‖1‖ ⋅ x. The complex absolute value is a special case of the norm in an inner product space. It is identical to the Euclidean norm, if the complex plane is identified with the Euclidean plane R^{2}.
Composition algebras
Every composition algebra A has an involution x → x* called its conjugation. The product in A of an element x and its conjugate x* is written N(x) = x x* and called the norm of x.
The real numbers ℝ, complex numbers ℂ, and quaternions ℍ are all composition algebras with norms given by definite quadratic forms. The absolute value in these division algebras is given by the square root of the composition algebra norm.
In general the norm of a composition algebra may be a quadratic form that is not definite and has null vectors. However, as in the case of division algebras, when an element x has a nonzero norm, then x has a multiplicative inverse given by x*/N(x).
Notes
 ^ ^{a} ^{b} ^{c} ^{d} Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Revision, June 2008
 ^ Nahin, O'Connor and Robertson, and functions.Wolfram.com.; for the French sense, see Littré, 1877
 ^ Lazare Nicolas M. Carnot, Mémoire sur la relation qui existe entre les distances respectives de cinq point quelconques pris dans l'espace, p. 105 at Google Books
 ^ James Mill Peirce, A Textbook of Analytic Geometry at Google Books. The oldest citation in the 2nd edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1907. The term absolute value is also used in contrast to relative value.
 ^ Nicholas J. Higham, Handbook of writing for the mathematical sciences, SIAM. ISBN 0898714206, p. 25
 ^ Spivak, Michael (1965). Calculus on Manifolds. Boulder, CO: Westview. p. 1. ISBN 0805390219.
 ^ Munkres, James (1991). Analysis on Manifolds. Boulder, CO: Westview. p. 4. ISBN 0201510359.
 ^ Mendelson, p. 2.
 ^ Stewart, James B. (2001). Calculus: concepts and contexts. Australia: Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0534377181., p. A5
 ^ González, Mario O. (1992). Classical Complex Analysis. CRC Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780824784157.
 ^ Lorenz, Falko (2008), Algebra. Vol. II. Fields with structure, algebras and advanced topics, Universitext, New York: Springer, p. 39, doi:10.1007/9780387724881, ISBN 9780387724874, MR 2371763.
 ^ Rudin, Walter (1976). Principles of Mathematical Analysis. New York: McGrawHill. p. 325. ISBN 007054235X.
 ^ ^{a} ^{b} Weisstein, Eric W. Absolute Value. From MathWorld – A Wolfram Web Resource.
 ^ Bartel and Sherbert, p. 163
 ^ Peter Wriggers, Panagiotis Panatiotopoulos, eds., New Developments in Contact Problems, 1999, ISBN 3211831541, p. 31–32
 ^ These axioms are not minimal; for instance, nonnegativity can be derived from the other three: 0 = d(a, a) ≤ d(a, b) + d(b, a) = 2d(a, b).
 ^ Mac Lane, p. 264.
 ^ Shechter, p. 260. This meaning of valuation is rare. Usually, a valuation is the logarithm of the inverse of an absolute value
 ^ Shechter, pp. 260–261.
References
 Bartle; Sherbert; Introduction to real analysis (4th ed.), John Wiley & Sons, 2011 ISBN 9780471433316.
 Nahin, Paul J.; An Imaginary Tale; Princeton University Press; (hardcover, 1998). ISBN 0691027951.
 Mac Lane, Saunders, Garrett Birkhoff, Algebra, American Mathematical Soc., 1999. ISBN 9780821816462.
 Mendelson, Elliott, Schaum's Outline of Beginning Calculus, McGrawHill Professional, 2008. ISBN 9780071487542.
 O'Connor, J.J. and Robertson, E.F.; "Jean Robert Argand".
 Schechter, Eric; Handbook of Analysis and Its Foundations, pp. 259–263, "Absolute Values", Academic Press (1997) ISBN 0126227608.
External links
 Hazewinkel, Michiel, ed. (2001) [1994], "Absolute value", Encyclopedia of Mathematics, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. / Kluwer Academic Publishers, ISBN 9781556080104
 absolute value at PlanetMath.org.
 Weisstein, Eric W. "Absolute Value". MathWorld.