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Roman Numerals on Clocks

Date: 06/04/2001 at 17:24:09
From: Jill Fleming
Subject: Roman Numerals on clocks

Dear Dr. Math,

There is a debate in my classroom. Is the Roman numeral on a clock 
written as IV, or IIII? I think it is IV, but some say it is IIII but 
only on clocks. 

Thank you,

Date: 06/04/2001 at 17:51:28
From: Doctor Roy
Subject: Re: Roman Numerals on clocks


Thanks for writing to Dr. Math.

The correct way to write the Roman numeral 4 is IV.  However, on 
clocks, an archaic form, IIII, is used. This is to "balance" the face 
of the clock. Clockmakers decided that a clock face would look more 
visually pleasing if opposite the 8 o'clock position (VIII) was 
another Roman numeral that had 4 parts to it, so the number of 
characters used to write the 4 is the same as the number used to write 
the 8. It's all a matter of what looks good to people.

For more history from the British Horological Institute, see:

  Roman Numeral Clock Faces
  Why do some clocks use IIII and others use IV?   

I hope this helps.

- Doctor Roy, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
Elementary Number Sense/About Numbers
Middle School Number Sense/About Numbers

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