An **assertion** in mathematical writing can be a claim, a definition or a constraint. It may be difficult to determine the intent of the author. That is discussed briefly here.

**Assertions in math texts can play many different roles.**

English sentences can state facts, ask question, give commands, and other things. The intent of an English sentence is often obvious, but sometimes it can be unexpectedly different from what is apparent in the sentence. For example, the statement “Could you turn the TV down?” is *apparently* a question expecting a yes or no answer, but in fact it may be a *request.* (See the Wikipedia article on speech acts.) Such things are normally understood by people who know each other, but people for whom English is a foreign language or who have a different culture have difficulties with them.

There are some problems of this sort in math English and the symbolic language, too. An assertion can have the intent of being a claim, a definition, or a constraint.

Most of the time the intent of an assertion in math is obvious. *But there are conventions and special formats that newcomers to abstract math may not recognize,* so they misunderstand the point of the assertion. This section takes a brief look at some of the problems.

### Terminology

The way I am using the words “assertion”, “claim”, and “constraint” is not standard usage in math, logic or linguistics.

## Claims

In most circumstances, you would expect that if a lecturer or author makes a math assertion, they are **claiming** that it is a true statement, and you would be right.

##### Examples

- “The $240$th digit of $\pi$ after the decimal point is $4$.”
- “If a function is differentiable, it must be continuous.”
- “$7\gt3$”

#### Remarks

- You don’t have to know whether these statements are true or not to recognize them as claims. An incorrect claim is still a claim.
- The assertion in (a) is a statement, in this case a false one. If it claimed the googolth digit was $4$ you would never be able to tell whether it is true or not, but it

*still*would be an assertion intended as a claim. - The assertion in (b) uses the standard math convention that an indefinite noun phrase (such as “a widget”) in the subject of a sentence is universally quantified (see also the article about “a” in the Glossary.) In other words, “An integer divisible by $4$ must be even” claims that
*any integer*divisible by $4$ is even. This statement is claim, and it is true. - (c) is a (true) claim in the symbolic language. (Note that “$3 + 4$” is not an assertion at all, much less a claim.)

## Definitions

Definitions are discussed primarily in the chapter on definitions. *A definition is not the same thing as a claim.*

##### Example

The **definition**

“An integer is **even** if it is divisible by $2$”

makes the **claim**

“An

integer is even **if and only if** it is

divisible by $2$”

true.

(If you are surprised that the definition uses “if” but the claim uses “if and only if”, see the Glossary article on “if”.)

### Unmarked definitions

Math texts sometimes define something without saying that it is a definition. Because of that, students may sometimes think a *claim* is a *definition.*

##### Example

Suppose that the concept of “even integer” was new to you and the book said, “A number is even if it is divisible by $4$.” Perhaps you thought that this was a definition. Later the book refers to $6$ as even and you pull your hair out wondering why. The statement is a *correct claim* but an *incorrect definition.* A *good* writer would write something like “Recall that a number is even if it is divisible by $2$, so that in particular it is even if it is divisible by $4$.”

On the other hand, you may think a *definition* is only a *claim.*

##### Example

A lecturer may *say* “By definition, an integer is even if it is divisible by $2$”, and you write down: “An integer is even if it is divisible by $2$”. Later, you get all panicky wondering **How did she know that??** (This has happened to me.)

The confusion in the preceding example can also occur if a books says, “An integer is **even** if it is divisible by $2$” and you don’t know about the convention that when an author puts a word or phrase in boldface or italics it may mean that they are defining it.

**A good writer always labels definitions**

## Constraints

Here are two assertions that contain variables.

- “$n$ is even.”
- “$x\gt1$”.

Such an assertion is a **constraint** (or a **condition**) if the intent is

that the assertion will hold in that part of the text (the scope of the constraint). The part of the text in which it holds is usually the immediate vicinity unless the authors explicitly says it will hold in a larger part of the text such as “this chapter” or “in the rest of the book”.

##### Examples

- Sometimes the wording makes it clear that the phrase is a constraint. So a statement such as “Suppose $3x^2-2x-5\geq0$” is a constraint on the possible values of $x$.
- The statement “Suppose $n$ is even” is an
*explicit*requirement that $n$ be even and an*implicit*requirement that $n$ be an integer. - A condition for which you are told to find the solution(s) is a constraint. For example: “Solve the equation $3x^2-2x-5=0$”. This equation is a constraint on the variable $x$. “Solving” the equation means saying explicitly which numbers make the equation true.

### Postconditions

The constraint may appear in parentheses *after* the assertion as a postcondition on an assertion.

##### Example

“$x^2\gt x\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,(\text{all }x\gt1)$”

which means that if the constraint “$x\gt1$” holds, then “$x^2\gt x$” is true. In other words, *for all* $x\gt1$, the statement $x^2\gt x$ is true. In this statement, “$x^2\gt x$” is not a constraint, but a claim which is true *when the constraint is true.*

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