The Americans and the French use a different notation for open intervals: The Americans use (x, y) while the French use ]x, y[. How did this notational divergence appear?

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    $\begingroup$ The square brackets notation is due to Bourbaki. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2014 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ Some discussion on this topic here and here. One commenter suggest that the backward brackets might have been introduced by Bourbaki to prevent confusion with ordered pairs. I am still at a loss for a documented history, but it is at least a part of an old ISO standard. I am not seeing it in the latest standard ISO 80000-2. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2014 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ I guess it is intuitive (inclusion/exclusion of the endpoints depends on the direction of the bracket), but I have not found anything written by them stating this or some other motivation explicitly. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2014 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @J.W.Perry Thanks! I had indeed went through the standard for that reason, see notation 2-6.10 last column. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2014 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ The ] [ notation is used in Belgium too, also in the Dutch-speaking part. $\endgroup$
    – Dominique
    Feb 27, 2023 at 13:27

1 Answer 1


Notation $()$ is traditional, and $].[$ was introduced by Bourbaki.

Much of the Bourbaki notations and terminology became standard, but English speaking people are the most conservative ones in this respect:-) (Recall the history of the metric system:-)

Another example of the same is "injection", "surjection", "bijection". Many English authors still write "one-to-one", "onto" and "one-to-one and onto".

Another example: Bourbaki taught us that "positive" is $\geq 0$, and "strictly positive" is $>0$.

But many people still prefer "positive" to mean $>0$ and "non-negative" for $\geq0$.

Remark. I am educated in Ukraine in 1970-s, and I experienced a strong influence of Bourbaki on education. But I still like $(,)$, perhaps just for aesthetic reasons.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, very interesting, I had no idea that the definition "positive" is $\geq 0$ was from Bourbaki as well, I am always having trouble with that in the US. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2014 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ A friend of mine asked a member of Bourbaki, let's call him X-X. X, about this and indeed the usage is due to Bourbaki. X-X. X said Bourbaki wanted to allow the notation $\subset$ to include the possibility of equality, and not just mean a strict subset. Compatibly with that, they wanted $<$ to mean less than or equal to and $>$ to mean greater than or equal to. This is why Bourbaki started using the word positif to mean greater than or equal to 0. $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    May 1, 2015 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandreEremenko: From my, admittedly rather limited, experience I'd say the opposite is (still) true: since $<$ is usually interpreted as a strict inequality, I do prefer writing $\subseteq$ for (not necessarily strict) inclusion. $\endgroup$ May 30, 2017 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Otto: I use it in that way, and I am not wrong. $\endgroup$
    – timur
    Sep 28, 2017 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Otto: And I. In fact, I don't think I EVER used $\subseteq$ in my long career, and had to look to my LaTeX manual, when typing this comment. Same applies to most authors of books and papers that I read. $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2021 at 3:19

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