A tuple in mathematics is a sequence of numbers (n1, n2, n3).

In databases, a tuple is a single row of data from a table.

What is a tuple in normal everyday English, or where does the word come from? Is there a concrete real-life object from which this word is derived? WordNet does not have a definition.


2 Answers 2


The word derives from the extended series of single, double, triple, quadruple, quintuple,..., where named multiples beyond five are generally words that end in "tuple". The natural (Latin-derived) words peter out pretty quickly, and mathematics needs more terms than a simple bipedal meat unit can easily memorize, so the term "n-tuple" was coined. Computer science took that ball and ran with it, dropping the "n-" altogether.

In other words, "tuple" has no meaning in everyday English.

  • I would rate your explanation better. :)
    – ikartik90
    Feb 16, 2011 at 19:05
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    There are also sextuple, septuple, and octuple.
    – apaderno
    Feb 16, 2011 at 19:09
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    @kiam Theoretically, you could continue that line ad infinitum. But in reality, no-one is that masochistic. ;-) Feb 16, 2011 at 19:25
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    @jae You mean, infinitytuple
    – bobobobo
    Feb 17, 2011 at 0:07
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    @kiam Most people try to avoid saying sextuple.
    – bobobobo
    Feb 17, 2011 at 0:08

Nothing. The word tuple is back-formed from Latinisms like quintuple, and it is only used in technical contexts. The average English speaker has never heard the word, and it has no meaning outside of the context of mathematics or software engineering.

  • I think it's actually a double back formation. I've seen n-tuple more commonly used in older texts, and tuple in newer texts.
    – smithco
    Feb 16, 2011 at 23:24
  • Man. So people who say its pronounced "too-ple" (instead of "tuh-ple") are really off the rocker?
    – bobobobo
    Feb 17, 2011 at 0:11
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    Off the rocker we may be, but 'tuh-ple' would be more naturally spelled 'tupple'. As one who had never put explicit thought into the before, I naturally pronounced 'too-ple'. Is there a consensus? (we're back-forming words afterall!)
    – zourtney
    Feb 17, 2011 at 4:40
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    @bobobobo - in British English people are most likely to say "quin-too-pl" rather than "quin-tuh-pl" anyway, so "too-pl" has that going for it anyway. Plus zourtney's good point about the spelling.
    – AAT
    Feb 17, 2011 at 7:59
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    I'd like to make a note about pronunciation. I am British and I say 'tuh-ple' rather than 'too-ple' for words like 'quintuple'. Furthermore, I have never heard 'too-ple' from anyone else. Even 'quintuplets' and the like I would pronounce with a 'tuh' rather than a 'too' and so would anyone else I know.
    – Karl
    Apr 3, 2011 at 14:56

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