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I am writing my thesis in English and want to describe three values. The sentence goes like this: '...we can get the minimum, middle and maximum eigenvalues respectively.'

Does the word 'middle' sound good here? Or should I replace it with 'medium' or anything else?

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  • What really do you mean by the "middle value" -- average? normal? reasonable? Use the appropriate word. Good Luck. "Middle" is not suitable in the context.
    – Kris
    Sep 27, 2018 at 9:13
  • Middle (vs top/bottom) works better than medium (vs large/small) here, but median might be what you’re after, as Pamasich’s answer recommends.
    – Lawrence
    Sep 27, 2018 at 10:56

3 Answers 3

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Median is correct, of course, but you don't want to use median because it sounds too statisticky - reasonable enough, as you don't want to confuse your audience, and there are only three values. (Median is used without confusion when there are only three values but your first objection - to avoiding a statistical term - still stands.)

And you don't want to use middle because it sounds too simple. Fair enough again - it is perhaps a word of the wrong register for your context, although you could certainly use it without any confusion.

You suggest medium but that isn't quite right as it implies an inappropriate degree of imprecision and you know exactly which value you are referring to:

medium (adjective)

About halfway between two extremes of size or another quality; average.

John is six feet tall, of medium build

medium-length hair

Looking up middle in a thesaurus yields the following:

  • intermediate: "coming between two things in time, place, order, character, etc."

  • inside: "the inner part; the interior"

  • intervening: "be situated between things"

  • centremost: cf centre, central: "of, at, or forming the centre"

  • inner: "situated inside or further in; internal"

  • medial: "(technical) situated in the middle"

  • middlemost: "That is in the very middle, or nearest the middle. Now chiefly with reference to position, age, or number (formerly also with reference to size, quality, etc.)."

(Note I did not include all words from the thesaurus linked above and that all definitions are from Oxford Living Dictionaries; I selected only the most relevant sub-definition.)

Out of these, some of them are only really appropriate as this is a list of three items: intermediate, inside, intervening and inner. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use them - in fact, as they imply your specific context, that might be a reason to favour one of them.

If you had a longer list of values and the same problem, I do like medial; as the dictionary says, it's technical, and so of an appropriate register. Moreover, medial is clearly from the same root as median and strongly suggests it - no bad thing in your context.

Here's the full definition with some example sentences:

medial (adjective, technical)

situated in the middle

A medial moraine is a strip of morainal debris in the middle of glacier ice which marks where two glaciers come together.

Not until after midnight, in an eerie twilight, do we sideslip around a medial moraine and discover two gigantic black holes in the silver glacier.

(The entry goes on to give its specific uses in anatomy and phonetics.)

But to return to the medial member of my thesaurus wordlist above: centremost. For our purposes, it amounts to a fancy way of saying central, which is a word well worth considering in its own right.

Centre/Center/Central

I'm not entirely sure why the centre value or the central value wouldn't work for you; perhaps it was hidden in plain sight. Centre means the same as middle but is ever so slightly more formal.

As is so often the case in English, we have a pair of words closely related in meaning - one Germanic in origin, one French. In very broad strokes, middle is Germanic, general and of the basic day-to-day vocabulary of the language; centre is French, specific, more bookish and more technical.

I gave a definition of central above, but it bears repeating, if for no other reason than to give the word sufficient prominence in this answer:

central (adjective)

of, at, or forming the centre

The station has a central courtyard.

The council's cabinet this week also gave the go-ahead to extensions to existing conservation areas in central Richmond and Kew Road.

The whole lake area is divided into five parts, the northeast, the southeast, the northwest, the southwest and the central area.

As to whether you go with center (American) or centre (British, Irish, Australian, etc.), that's a can of worms for a different question; just keep your text consistent.

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Literally the value in the middle of a set of values, so there's an equal number of values before and after it, is called the median value.

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    Yes, but I am not sure if it is a good idea to use the word median, since it sound too 'statistical' and there are only three values... It just feels weird. So would you go with middle value?
    – Andrej
    Sep 27, 2018 at 8:11
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With only three values, middle sound fine. However, minimum and maximum sound wrong.

I would change your description to:

 . . . we can get the low, middle, and high eigenvalues respectively.

This is assuming that you are choosing the numbers based on their presence in the set of three. ("I"ve written down three numbers. Tell me which is the highest.")

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