English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

How do you say the mathematical function in English:

x^y (or xy)

For example, how do you say

2^16 (or 216)

I know ^ means 'power' or 'exponentiate', but that is the name of the operation, not how you pronounce its use.

If y = 2, it is 'x squared', y=3 then 'x cubed'. What if y is some other arbitrary number?

share|improve this question
This is explained in the wiktionary entry for power (see meaning 8) – Matt E. Эллен Jul 11 '12 at 8:31
The obvious thing to say is 65536. – jwpat7 Jul 11 '12 at 15:36
Could someone explain how, exactly, this question is off topic? The FAQ states pronunciation questions are on topic, does not explicitly say anything to indicate how to talk about math in English is off topic, it seems fair to me that this might be said differently in English than other languages (almost certainly so), and there's no reason to automatically suspect the questioner is non-native. So why close it? – Questioner Jul 17 '12 at 5:00
For clarification, the ^ symbol is also called the caret symbol. – Desura Aug 3 '12 at 18:49
Cross-linking: How is "e^x" read aloud? over at Maths, our sister site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. – RegDwigнt Oct 10 '12 at 21:45
up vote 28 down vote accepted

The references say "two to the sixteenth power" or "two to the power of sixteen" but that is only done in very formal speech. Ironically, in actual mathematical usage, the formal pronunciation is not that common.

The more common way to say it (in math class or in a mathematical presentation) is a ellipsis of the first:

two to the sixteenth

or just as commonly

two to the sixteen

depending on how rapid speech you are using.

Of course there are some special cases: x2 is "x squared", x3 is "x cubed". x1 or x0 are mathematically jarring if written alone (they are often, when mathematically allowed, written just "x" and "one"), but if forced would be "x to the one" and "x to the zero", never as an ordinal (it is a solecism to say "x to the first" and way too informal to say .

For example, a polynomial x109 + 9x5 − 2x2 is most likely pronounced:

x to the hundred and nine plus nine x to the fifth minus two x squared.

(or "hundred and ninth"; both are equally possible here). If it were x101 — see discussion here —, you just don't say "one hundred first".)

If variables are involved, the ordinal is not used. xy is

x to the y

(that is, not appending the ordinal suffix '-th').

share|improve this answer
With respect, I entirely disagree with your assertion that "two to the power of sixteen" is somehow formal. It just isn't. Additionally, I might say "two to the sixteenth", but while I've learned that there's always someone out there who will say things in a way I never imagined, I would never say "two to the sixteen", and I've never heard anyone else use that. – Questioner Aug 1 '12 at 15:59
@DaveMG: "two to the sixteen" only sounds odd in a non-mathematical context. I'm willing to bet that if you heard it in a math class, you wouldn't even blink; and in fact you might even hear it as "sixteenth", i.e. your mind would automatically supply the ordinal. – Marthaª Aug 1 '12 at 17:07
@Marthaª: I don't think it matters what anyone claims another seems to say, or what anyone thinks they hear. "Depending on how rapid speech you are using" is convenient way of justifying anything said. Speaking fast enough, one might say "twot'thsixeeth", but so what? – Questioner Aug 1 '12 at 17:15
@DaveMG I find your comments unnecessarily contrarian. Describing "Two to the power of sixteen" as a more formal version of "two to the sixteenth" is a perfectly valid and natural way to convey the notion that one form is preferred over the other in a conversational context. Obviously both forms fully specify a mathematical operation, and in that sense, they are actually both quite formal. Furthermore, just because you haven't seen it, doesn't mean that some people, even competent mathematicians, don't use an ordinal in the short form sometimes. – Cameron Aug 1 '12 at 18:04
@Cameron: Can you prove that "one form is preferred over the other in a conversational context"? Otherwise, it doesn't matter how natural it is to convey the notion, the notion itself is no more or less opinion than what I'm saying, and I disagree with your opinion on the matter. – Questioner Aug 2 '12 at 3:49

I would use two raised to the sixteenth power which is the full version. Although when people are saying a big numeral expression they skip it to two to the sixteenth.

share|improve this answer
Popular opinion. – Mysti Nov 17 '14 at 18:44

"Two to the power of sixteen."

share|improve this answer

You could also say Two to the sixteenth

share|improve this answer

protected by Rathony May 5 at 17:35

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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