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BRIEF ARTICLE

THE AUTHOR

“Equivalence” (mod n) is of course not the same thing as “equality”: 13 6= 7 for example,
but 13 ≡3 7. Equivalence does share some properties with equality, and herein lies much
of its usefulness.
We will refer to the following remarkable facts as The Fundamental Theorem of
Modular Arithmetic:
Addition and multiplication both “work” using modular equivalences.
This is obviously somewhat informal; what does “work” mean here? One way to state this
more formally is that if
a ≡n x and b ≡n y
it follows that
a + b ≡n x + y and ab ≡n xy .
Don’t worry if you’re confused by this formal statement; it should become clearer after
we’ve worked through some examples.
0.1. Example: mod 10. Let’s consider the example of mod 10. First of all, it’s easy to
see that every natural number is equivalent mod 10 to exactly one number from the set
Z10 = {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9} .
These are all the possible remainders when we divide a natural number by ten. (The symbol
Z10 is standard for this set; the “Z” comes from zahlen, which is German for “numbers”.
The official name of this set is the integers modulo ten; it’s usually called simply “zee
mod ten” or “zee ten”. ) Note that Z10 consists of the ten natural numbers less than 10.
In fact it’s even easy to determine which number in Z10 a given number is equivalent to:
31, 415, 265, 358, 979 ≡10 9 ,
for example, and you don’t need a calculator to see this. Just think about what happens
when you divide by ten. The remainder is always the last digit.
Another way to state the fundamental theorem for mod 10 numbers is that for any two
natural numbers, (i.) the last digit of the sum is equivalent mod ten to the sum of the last
digits, and (ii.) the last digit of the product is equivalent mod ten to the product of the
last digits.
But this is well-known! In fact, the familiar algorithms for calculating sums and products
illustrate this principle quite nicely. Consider the example of the two numbers a = 314
and b = 159. The fundamental theorem (part (i.) asserts that the last digit of the sum
depends only on the last digits of a and b. 314 4
+ 159 + 9
473 13
The last digit is “3” in each case; in fact we know
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these last digits must match by the very
nature of the procedure for calculating the sum!
By the same token, we have 314 × 159 = 49926, whereas 4 × 9 = 36. Again, the last
digits match; again, the familiar multiplication algortithm shows why this must be so.
In terms of equivalences, we are asserting that because
314 ≡10 4 and 159 ≡10 9 ,
we must have
314 + 159 ≡10 4 + 9 and314 × 159 ≡10 4 × 9 ,
which is a special case of the “fundamental theorem”.
We can think of mod ten arithmetic as “the arithmetic of last digits”. The numbers in
2 THE AUTHOR

These tables represent a complete “arithmetic mod two”. This could also be thought of
as the arithmetic of “even or odd”. Inded, we could just as well have written our tables
with Efor “even” and Ofor “odd” as follows.
⊕2 E O ⊗2 E O
E E O E E E
O O E O E O
The “number” notation will be much more convienient for moduli other than two, how-
ever, so we’ll continue to use the number notation for mod two calculations as well.
0.3. Example: mod 3. .
It will come as no surprise that
Z3 = {0, 1, 2}
(“zee three”) represents the set of integers modulo three: all the possible remainders when
a natural number is divided by three. Furthermore, we can introduce mod three arithmetic
using symbols ⊕3 and ⊗3 .
⊕3 0 1 2 ⊗3 0 1 2
0 0 1 2 0 0 0 0
1 1 2 0 1 0 1 2
2 2 0 1 2 0 2 1