identity element

[ ī-dĕntĭ-tē ]

The element of a set of numbers that when combined with another number under a particular binary operation leaves the second number unchanged. For example, 0 is the identity element under addition for the real numbers, since for any real number a, a + 0 = a, and 1 is the identity element under multiplication for the real numbers, since a X 1 = a.

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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.