Composite number is translated as 合数, which do make sense; Prime number is called 素数, what does 素 means here?

Is it possible to trace the source of such translation?


「素」generically means basal, essential, intrinsic, primal. Hence you have vocabulary like

  • 元素 (atom), the fundamental constituent of matter (well, the name was given before they discovered subatomic particles)
  • 詞素 (morpheme), the fundamental constituent of words
  • 要素 (essential factor)
  • It 's very interesting to find that google translate `primer number' to '素数' in Japanese. So it borrowed from Japanese. Do you know some Japanese about the word 素?
    – AbstProcDo
    Dec 9 '19 at 14:01
  • atom is reasonable, prime number can not be decomposed any more.
    – AbstProcDo
    Dec 9 '19 at 14:03
  • @Algebra well「素」in Japanese shares the base, primal meanings with Chinese. As for whether 素數 originated in Japanese, I'm not sure. They might have coined it - there's a heap of words in Chinese that originated from Wasei-Kango.
    – dROOOze
    Dec 9 '19 at 14:10

素 can mean 物的基本成分 (basic element of something) as an extension from its base meaning of plain, natural, pure, unmodified.

In its synonym 质数, 质 also means the nature of something or being plain and simple.


素 can mean prime in some way. See this definition in dictionaries:



Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.