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I want to describe patterns where there are numbers in pairs like these: -1 and +1, -944 and +944.

Now I want to write a sentence that someone should "look for equal numbers just with opposite X". What is an appropriate word to fill in for X.

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You literally say "equal magnitude, opposite [sign](en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_(mathematics)". – Dan Bron Aug 28 '14 at 10:48
Why not try: polarity – user3306356 Aug 28 '14 at 10:59
Thank you @DanBron! Given your 5 upvotes for your comment, I would accept it as an answer if you write it as one. – David Aug 28 '14 at 11:06
@user3306356 Polarity sounds more intuitive. – David Aug 28 '14 at 11:16
Polarity is only for electricity. It has quite a different meaning to the sign of a cartesian number. – Joe Blow Aug 28 '14 at 13:17
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Pairs of numbers like 1 and -1 or +944 and -944 are said to have

Equal magnitude, but opposite sign

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Mathematician here — I second this answer, in my experience both among professional mathematicians and in talking to people who use maths in other fields. – PLL Aug 28 '14 at 11:16
I really can't even think of another word, in English! I guess, if you're trying to sound formal in a text book, you could only say "is it positive or negative" (i.e., rather than "what's the sign, mate?") I mean you could say direction if you were sort of dealing with vectors a lot, or similar. – Joe Blow Aug 28 '14 at 13:18
@Joe, in a mathematics textbook, you would definitely call this the sign, because that is the official and correct mathematical term. Click through the link provided & read the article (or its own citations). In a formal setting, you couldn't say "positive or negative", because that characterization is incomplete: zero is neither positive nor negative (that is, the signum function is three-valued). If you're looking for other, informal, terms, in my grammar school days, older teachers sometimes said "equal magnitude, opposite senses". – Dan Bron Aug 28 '14 at 13:35
Yeah I suppose you could say "senses". Really. It's wild that there's no "fancy" word for .. "sign!" Good one. (Regarding zero - I don't think anyone asked about it. In "math" it's usually said to be different. In say computing, you typically treat it as positive (the "sign function" if you will is different from the math one you mentioned , example, docs.unity3d.com/ScriptReference/Mathf.Sign.html Two outputs.). Perhaps the same in engineering, I don't really know. Anyway good one ..."sign" and nothing else!!! – Joe Blow Aug 28 '14 at 13:49
Not a Java man, huh? I know, lost its edge when it sold out to Oracle. I get you. Maybe you're a .NET guy then, like a little C#, VB.NET, that kind of thing? Or maybe you're a web developer, JavaScript hacker? Or one of these cool functional programming hipsters? Or maybe you're not positive or negative on any of them, just kind of ... neutral? ;) – Dan Bron Aug 28 '14 at 14:16

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