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As a computer scientist, I ran into trouble recently with a piece of my game writing for a general audience, which had a few phrases like this:

For magic, each boost increments quantity.

The intention here was for "increment" to mean "adds one to", which is what it means in the technical field of computing. But I had some readers be confused by that, and I realize now that the English dictionary definition of "increment" doesn't say the same thing. E.g., the definition at dictionary.com.

Example of the feedback I received (from a fellow programmer):

I'm not sure exactly how much increments quantity means, unless Dan is nerdily assuming people will just read that as quantity++

("quantity++" is the syntax used in a C-like language to add one to an integer quantity, called the increment operator; e.g., as in C, C#, Java, JavaScript, Go, etc... and something of an inside joke in the name of the language C++.)

Note that this question is distinguished from this related one, which asks for usage in a technical publication, and whose answer is "increment", which in my case readers have found to be unclear.

Am I overlooking any other single word in standard English which specifically means "to add one"?

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    I'm by far not a native speaker of English, but I'm a programmer, and I would say that even in programming context "increment" does not always mean "increment by one".
    – Petr
    Jan 23, 2023 at 7:20
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    Even if the sentence was "For magic, each boost adds 1 to the quantity.", it would still be extremely unclear. What quantity are we adding 1 to? It's unclear whether "for magic" applies to "boost" or to "the quantity" or to something else. It might mean "Each magic boost increases the quantity by 1" or it might mean "Each boost increases the quantity of magic by 1" or it might mean "Each magic boost increases the quantity of magic by 1" or it might mean something else.
    – Stef
    Jan 23, 2023 at 10:53
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    I don't think "increment" is a technical word... Jan 23, 2023 at 11:23
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    I don't think the issue is that they don't know "increment," but more likely that the units of 'magic' are unclear. And I'm not sure it make sense to "increment quantity." You sort of need to increment the quantity of something. Is this the quantity of magic as in the now have more kinds of magic? Or does magic have some unit and they now have one more of that unit? If the later, then "Each boost increments your magic points by one," would be much more clear (where 'points' are the unit of magic in this example).
    – ttbek
    Jan 23, 2023 at 17:48
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    In a gaming context, I'd expect to see something like "each boost gives +1 MP" or similar...
    – miken32
    Jan 23, 2023 at 17:54

9 Answers 9

40

Summarising the other answers and comments, the answer to OP's question is "No"; there is no word meaning "increase by 1" in general English.

In computer programming the verb "increment" often has that meaning, but in general it means "increase by steps". See https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/the-verb-for/increment.html. The steps are often equal to 1, especially for counters. However the steps need not even be the same size, as in wordhippo's example

“The voltage is then incremented and the process continues until a determination is made as to the objects operability.”

OP's example could be rephrased more clearly as

For magic, each boost adds 1 to the quantity.

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    This. I don’t understand why some people insist on coming up with ever more tenuous pseudo-synonyms instead of admitting there isn’t actually a word meeting the criteria listed. (This is hardly the only question on ELU where I see this.) Though even if there isn’t a single word, for completeness it would be nice to at least mention how the idea would be expressed in everyday English. Jan 22, 2023 at 12:43
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    @user3840170 Human nature. But I agree that it compromises the integrity of the site. Jan 22, 2023 at 15:04
  • @user3840170 While I agree that scrolling down through single-word-request answers usually leads to increments in facepalming, do you think it's a bit bold or at least premature (in general) to claim to have proved a negative with such authority? Jan 22, 2023 at 19:30
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    Selecting this as the answer. If someone does find a word that fits the bill at a later date, happy to switch at that time. Jan 22, 2023 at 20:46
  • @user3840170 I see an alarming number of posts on English Language Stack coming up with unbelievably tenuous suggestions for something that doesn't have a specific word in English. Jan 24, 2023 at 18:19
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You are using "increment" correctly here in the programming sense; I'm not sure if that meaning is known to general audiences.

The reason your audience is confused may be partly related to the missing definite article: "For magic, each boost increments the quantity."

One way to avoid the word "increment" would be to rephrase the sentence entirely; this will depend on context, but you might use something like: "Each boost gives you one more point of magic."

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    "One more point of magic" makes the most sense in a game setting, and doesn't sound as technical as "adding 1 to the quantity". So one more point of reputation to your answer :)
    – Ruslan
    Jan 23, 2023 at 17:14
  • For a non-technical audience, I'd further edit this to either "each boost slightly increases the quantity" (or perhaps "bumps"). If the "by 1" is vital, then it has to be said. "each boost increases the quantity by 1".
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 24, 2023 at 17:25
  • increment does not mean "increase by one" in the "programming sense". It means exactly the same as it does everywhere else; increase by some amount.
    – Clearer
    Jan 24, 2023 at 23:56
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I'd expect to see "increments by one" if there was any doubt about the size of change.

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6

The single-word term bump is sometimes used, see Dictionary of Computing

bump
Increment. E.g. C's ++ operator. It is used especially of counter variables, pointers and index dummies in for, while, and do-while loops.

A more general usage is shown in Cambridge

bump verb (INCREASE)
to increase something

So the article or manual you are writing might say

For magic, each boost bumps the quantity.

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    This has the same problem presented in the question - even if people understand "bump" to mean increment, one of the examples givin in the dictionary link is "Minimum wage in the state was bumped 55 cents an hour to $5.85. ", the amount of increment need not be by a single unit.
    – traktor
    Jan 23, 2023 at 1:40
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    You could say "bump it up by one."
    – eksortso
    Jan 24, 2023 at 18:45
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It was not easy do find your definition on the web, but it is there:

To add a number to another number. Incrementing a counter means adding 1 to its current value. (pcmag)

One dictionary that does mention it as a verb in Computing is OxfordL, but the value of the increase is not specified:

COMPUTING
cause a discrete increase in (a numerical quantity).

So I am not surprised that the users who are not computing initiates are confused by this. I don't think there is another word. Might be worth considering adding a definition, or simply use increase by 1.

Wikipedia explains that

Increment and decrement operators are unary operators that add or subtract one, to or from their operand, respectively. They are commonly implemented in imperative programming languages.

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    Maybe it's worth adding that decrement means to decrease the value by one, in the same context. Jan 21, 2023 at 18:57
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    I should note that this meaning is well-known among programmers; I'm surprised to learn that non-programmers don't use the word this way. For one example: developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/JavaScript/Reference/…
    – alphabet
    Jan 21, 2023 at 20:50
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    @Anton In programming (in my experience) the term is used unambiguously to mean "add one" in all cases, not just with counters. (You could say "increment it by 5," but "increment x" on its own would always be interpreted as "add one to x.") PCMag and Oxford have it wrong, but the MDN page I linked uses it correctly.
    – alphabet
    Jan 22, 2023 at 4:02
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    @alphabet In the overwhelmingly most widespread uses in programming, the word (/operator) is applied to an integer whose natural discrete step is 1. For me, the original sentence only makes sense in its intended meaning if it can be assumed from context that magic quantity is a variable (it is bad practice outside technical manuals; but I could accept it), that the quantity is an integer (which I cannot accept without more direct context), and that its incremental step is one (which I can accept had it been specified as an integer).
    – xngtng
    Jan 22, 2023 at 20:48
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    @xngtng The MDN article I cited is referring to floating point JavaScript numbers. I stand by my claim that "increment" is used exclusively in programming to mean "to add one to something."
    – alphabet
    Jan 22, 2023 at 23:19
5

The answer is clearly "No." However, I'm rather surprised these expert software programmers don't seem to be aware of why "increment" normally means one in computers but is far more varied in the real world.

In the real world, "increment" is the smallest unit of measure on a measuring device (whether a ruler, pressure meter, etc). I'm looking at a ruler with 1/64 inch increments right now.

That's a very familiar term to many many people.

Applied to the action of incrementing, several of the definitions given above are quite misleading.

To increment is to increase by the smallest unit of measure in the system.

Thus, it's almost meaningless without knowing the context.

To beat this to death:

  • increment is applied to a particular context, typically some kind of counter or control variable
  • the context determines the size of the increment (or "bump" as some would have it)
  • by default traditionally the size is one for computer loops, yet it clearly can be any value at all.

With that in mind it ought to be obvious why "add one" isn't a particularly useful concept, and thus not likely to ever become its own word. Context is everything.

(Off Topic: Those with very long term memories will know the meaning and value of a similar computer term... but one that has long been out of favor: JFFO on the PDP10. One of my favorite operations! This single instruction could discover increments ;) )

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    In the days of line number BASIC, we would often increment line numbers by 10 to leave space for other lines to be added in.
    – Peter
    Jan 24, 2023 at 4:34
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There isn't a single word that means "to add one", and even if there was one it may not be a good choice of word anyways. That's because you're not just writing text, you're writing rules.

Rules are a kind of technical document, in that they have to explain a topic clearly and precisely, and in general leave no room for interpretation where none is desired.


It's true that in the context of computing, a developer would say "increment" without any further precision to mean "increment by 1". However, that's a colloquial use. "Increment" isn't a technical word, and it has a plain English meaning:

  • To increment means to increase a value.

  • The increment is the amount by which you increase it.

You can find that meaning used in accounting and finance, e.g. salary increment which you would hope isn't be an increase by 1. Which means, if anything, that using "increment" alone could be understood by the right audience in the right but would be woefully unprecise anywhere else.


Now here is for example how the C# reference explains what the increment operator is, emphasis added:

The unary increment operator ++ increments its operand by 1.

"Increment" is the exact verb to use here. However, it can't be used on its own because, as you found out and as discussed above, that would be incomplete. Considering the increment operator does exactly what you want, you could take inspiration and write:

For magic, each boost increments [quantity] by 1.

(Assuming here that "quantity" is a placeholder for the actual quantity in-game, e.g. "the target's magic points", which should be specifically specified, specifically so)

That's clear, precise, and a player can't argue that "you didn't say by how much I should increment my magic so I chose +∞, show me in the rules where it says I can't".

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Tally can have this meaning: you tally or tally up something (like goals, or the number of people in the stands) by marking the new count, one at a time. See also Merriam-Webster and Collins.

Count up also works, although it’s two words, not one.

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The standard English word meaning "increase by one" is "increment," and it's not just a technical term. If your audience doesn't know that word, that's their problem, not yours.

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