I'm attempting to describe the process of changing the sign of a variable (in a math/programming context), but I'm not able to come up with a singular word for that process, even though it seems like there should be one. I presume I could use "negate," but that already has meanings in regards to logic, where you can turn an argument p into not p, and in regular English, where it means "to nullify" and "to cause negative results" - both of which, though particularly the first definition, are not completely accurate in regards to the actual process.

Succinctly, is there a single word (as opposed to a phrase) that means "to change the sign of"?

3 Answers 3


Additive Inverse.

"This operation is also known as the opposite (number), sign change, and negation"

"Along its application to real numbers, "change of sign" is used throughout mathematics and physics to denote the additive inverse (multiplication to −1)" - Wikipedia (Sign)

  • I know that change of sign is frequently used, I was just hoping that there was a single word to describe the process other than "negation" which was also mentioned in that definition.
    – Amndeep7
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 9:11
  • @Amndeep7 There was also "Opposite" and the more formal (obviously not one word) "Additive Inverse". Sometimes, there just isn't a nice little one-word-answer for something :(
    – d'alar'cop
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 9:14
  • I guess I was just hoping that such a basic operation could be described with a shorter phrase than "change of sign," particularly since "negate" has a lot of connotations that I don't want to have. Thanks a lot for your help!
    – Amndeep7
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 9:19
  • @Amndeep7 You might also get away with "flip" if you have some examples nearby.
    – d'alar'cop
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 9:26
  • In terms of programming, "flip" is almost always used in the context of changing the value of a bit from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 0. I would almost assuredly cause more confusion than clarification if I used that terminology.
    – Amndeep7
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 9:42

The first thing that came to mind was negate, but you said you don't like it. I agree for a different reason -- it seems to mean make negative, which doesn't apply when the original value is negative and you're changing it to positive.

How about: invert

  • To be completely honest, I was hoping for jargon that I hadn't seen yet as a response to my question. However, in my (extremely limited) reading thus far and in a brief exploration on the internet, I have not seen "invert" used in this context. Thanks for your help though!
    – Amndeep7
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 9:21
  • 2
    Don't use invert! In mathematics, "negate" is usually used for x-x, and "invert" for x1/x. Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 14:51

I would be hesitant to use invert. Remember that it can just as easily, perhaps more frequently, mean to take the multiplicative inverse (that is, ¹⁄ₓ or 1x ).

I think “switch the sign” is the best approach.

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