Vulgar Fractions

Vulgar Fraction

Pick up any dictionary and you will find ‘Vulgar’ defined along the lines of:

  1. Lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined
  2. indecent; obscene; lewd

… and I’ve often wondered what the poor old fraction has done to deserve such a reputation.

I have visions of unruly fractions, burping and belching and generally terrorising the more gentle and sophisticated numbers.  I have an image of a gang of fractions, probably with a top heavy fraction like 145 as the gang leader, nipping behind the bike shed for an illicit smoke.  I picture some mutton-chopped Victorian mathematician so incensed by the decadent form of these fractions that he describes them as “vulgar little numbers”.


But, alas, the story of the vulgar fraction is much less colourful.  The vulgar in this context is:

  • common

and our vulgar fractions are nothing more than common fractions – fractions whose top number* and bottom number* are both integers (whole numbers.)

Although the average schoolboy (or girl) may not agree, fractions are actually pretty useful things and actually make maths a whole lot easier – when we encounter the delights of (harder) algebra, using fractions makes life much, much more simple than dealing with decimals.  So even if they are little vulgar and swear and curse a little, you’ve got to love vulgar fractions.

A Maths Teacher

*I much prefer to use the words “top number” and “bottom number” than numerator and denominator – why confuse things further with fancy words that are easily forgotten.

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One Comment

  1. Michael Carpenteris
    Posted 28/03/2019 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what is a vulgar fraction but as I read this post, it refers to a common fraction as what the word vulgar implied. Learning common fractions and knowing how to do the basic mathematical operation on it is a lesson that we should never miss and a must to learn. But sometimes doing it manually may result in a wrong answer. That is why I used a tool to confirm that the computation is correct. For checking if the calculation of fractions is correct, I used an app which shows the correct answer and display the step by step solution. It is actually a fraction calculator from It is very useful in solving fraction and a very good tool to be used both by teacher and student for reference if their answer is correct and if their solution is right.

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