This is about (numerical) displays, eg. a "multiple-digit" display such as a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven-segment_display (LED or LCD) and the difference between a digit as a single-glyph numeral (0-9) and a digit as referring to the possible position for a glyph on the display.

Example: "1.23" would be a three-digit display with the digits/glyphs/symbols "1","2","3" with the numeral "1.23" (representing a number). However, any digit (location) on that display could show different digits (glyph/symbol/value), e.g. the leftmost could show a "9" instead.

So the term "digit" is used ambiguously which makes it a little awkward, and I am looking for a way to distinguish between the two meanings - is there?


The awkwardness I was referring to may be clearer with yet another example: "Show a digit on the leftmost digit".

I guess it's a matter of context and better set up in a way that "Show a digit on the leftmost position" or similar would work - which is difficult when the context is the positional attribute.

Maybe introducing inaccuracy like "Show a number on the leftmost digit" is tolerable? But it is and sounds wrong.

Wikipedia states nothing about its use as "positional attribute":


A numerical digit is a single symbol (such as "2" or "5") used alone, or in combinations (such as "25"), to represent numbers (such as the number 25) according to some positional numeral systems. The single digits (as one-digit-numerals) and their combinations (such as "25") are the numerals of the numeral system they belong to.

So maybe there is a synonym for "digit" better suited to describe a position - perhaps "place" (from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/decimal_place, but not quite right either)?

  • 3
    Why are decimal place or position not suited to your purpose? Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 11:27
  • @michael It's difficult because the term used to refer to these positions is "digit". "Decimal place" is probably not correct as it is precisely defined as "the position of a digit to the right of the decimal point in a decimal number. "
    – Guest
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 11:57
  • 1
    While I would recommend "significant figure" to refer to any given point, in reference to your comment above, I believe "digit" refering to the actual contents of the position supercedes the notion of position itself. i.e. "The left-most digit" would always be thought of as the left most lit-up number.
    – Freddie R
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 12:29
  • You need to decide if you want to look at this from a mathematical point of view, or an engineering one. In mathematics, there can be no "empty" digits - so the problem what to call them does not arise. In engineering, each "slot" of 7 segments is usually called "digit" and it displays (or not) a symbol. That said, I would have no problem calling these slots "places" or "positions". Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 12:32
  • @michael That's exactly it, the notion of an inactive "slot" (empty display position) also called digit in engineering/tech terminology. Coming from the technical point of view, I think I'll refer to the position as "digit" and whatever is shown there as "symbol" or "glyph" - after all, seven-segment displays are not limited to numerals and can show quite a number of letters in addition to the hexadecimal A-F. Thank you all for your input and the discussion (I can't upvote, sorry).
    – Guest
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


There is no confusion, because a digit is one numeral, whatever numeral it is. For example, '100' is a three-digit number, but so is '199'. It does not matter what numerals are actually displayed, '3' is the maximum number of digits we actually see on a 3-digit display, one per 'live' segment, whether it is to display '1.23', '999', '2' or even 'EEE'.

Therefore a digit is any displayable character in the numeral range 0-9 plus the null display (plus 'E' for error in some systems), and therefore there is no confusion between 'digits' and the numerals actually displayed.

  • 1
    No, a segment is one of e.g. seven areas that comprise a digit. To show the numeral "1", two segments are activated.
    – Guest
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 10:36
  • @Guest - yes, a duh moment there, I was talking about something else completely... Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 10:46
  • No problem, but the catch is that I am effectively looking for a synonym of "digit" in the positional sense. I've updated the question, hoping to make myself a bit clearer. And thanks for your interest!
    – Guest
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 10:51
  • In these kinds of situations a small diagram is often useful, marked 'display 1', 'display 2' etc. Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 11:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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