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Is this sentence grammatical?

Write down an addition.

(I am trying to avoid saying "Write down addition equations/sentences" to describe writing of "3+2=5" for young children.)

Appreciate advice.

Thank you!

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  • It might be alright in a school context, where the listeners were already aware of what it meant. But don't expect the meaning to be grasped if you suddenly said it out of the blue.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 7:03
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    When I grew up, that would be "Write down a sum" and that probably would be understood out of context. Using "an addition" could easily mean "something extra", which "a sum" doesn't connote.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 8:10
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    As far as grammaticality goes, you have an imperative verb and an object. It's perfectly grammatical.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 8:12
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    You can write down anything at all and it will be grammatical. Write down a car. Write down an amnesia. Write down an eater. Write down a divorce. Write down a peace. Write down a universe. Write down a write. Write down a colorless green idea that sleeps furiously. All 100% grammatical, and quite obviously so. Are you sure you are meaning to ask about grammar?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 10:40
  • @AndrewLeach Yeah, technically, a sum is the result of an addition; but in a primary school context a 'sum' is a numerical expression using at least one of the four basic arithmetic functions (+,-,×,÷). In the OP's situation the term would have to be 'an addition sum' which is the sort of thing they are trying to avoid.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 21:02

3 Answers 3

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First, as others have already said, there is nothing wrong grammatically with your sentence.

As a mathematical person, I find the wording of your example strange, and like others, I gravitate naturally toward using equations ... or perhaps sentences, although that's not a term I learned when I learned math.

Given that you would like to avoid using both equations and sentences, your choice of addition could work, but only if your students understand what you are expecting when you say, "Write down an addition." Still, addition is problematic in that reputable dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com, provide the following definition of addition:

addition: the result of adding

So your example, "Write down an addition," means, "Write down a result of adding." In this sense, addition has the problem that it refers to the result of adding, with no mention of what is being added or of the act or process of adding. So, perhaps you could make addition work if you also ask your students to "show their work", i.e., to show how they arrived at the addition in question. Humorous, no?

Bottom line: Your sentence is grammatically correct but the word addition doesn't capture what you are asking your students to write down. I side with @RobbieGoodwin: I would ask my students to write down an equation or a sentence using addition, after I taught them the meaning of equation or sentence. I would avoid at all costs teaching them to use a word to mean something it doesn't.

Addendum: As pointed out by a commenter and @RobbieGoodwin, sum would work. According to Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com, respectively:

sum: numbers to be added; broadly : a problem in arithmetic

sum: a series of numbers or quantities to be added; an arithmetical problem to be solved, or such a problem worked out and having the various steps shown

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An acceptable phrase would be something like: 'Write an equation using addition.'

The meaning would be as clear if 'Write down an addition' was suddenly said out of the blue as in a school context; the problem would be that the mistake was more likely to be noticed, even if no-one minded.

However wrongly in the maths-room context, ”Write down a sum" generally means write down an equation, not specifically a sum.

Using "an addition" by itself to mean "something extra" would stretch the imagination. ‘In addition to what Fred said…’ is readily understood. ‘As an addition…’ ditto but by itself, ‘An addition’ to anything is at best confusing.

When an imperative verb and an object are grammatical that’s coincidence, not necessity. The verb and object must be compatible as can be seen from the fact that one very clearly may not write down anything at all and have it be grammatical.

‘Write down a car’ is not an alternative form of ‘Write down “a car’; it's nonsense. Remember the same is true of amnesia, do not swallow any suggestion of writing down an eater and don’t marry yourself to the idea of writing a divorce, with or without the ‘down.’ Even a divorce lawyer might write a divorce ’up’ but no more write it 'down’ than simply ‘write’ it.

Writing down a colorless green idea that sleeps furiously is perfectly possible because the active element is the abstract ‘idea’ and all the rest mere description signifying nothing, grammatically. Even so, simply 'Writing an idea' without the down would be problematical. Although most people would understand it, it would still not be strictly correct.

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A typical use in American English when teaching children is to use the words 'problem' or 'example':

There are 3 addition problems on the board. Write each problem down and solve it.

Please write down an example of addition using the number 5.

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