If I compute, say, 1/3//N, Mathematica displays


as the result. When I copy that output to use elsewhere, the paste produces


What is the meaning and function of the backtick ?

I realize this must be quite elementary. I stand ready to be educated. :-)

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    $\begingroup$ See also (26772) for other appearances of the backtick, e.g. Developer`PartitionMap $\endgroup$ – Mr.Wizard Feb 6 '17 at 18:18

The backtick is a short-hand to mark the precision of your output. If it is not followed by any number, it denotes machine precision. You can denote arbitrary precision by including a number, as for example, 0.3`20.

By default, these are not displayed in StandardForm, which is why you see them only when copying, at which point it gets converted to InputForm. You can show them with NumberMarks -> True. For example:

Sqrt[2] // N
(* 1.4142135623730951 *)

InputForm[Sqrt[2] // N, NumberMarks -> True]
(* 1.4142135623730951` *)
| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ InputForm? You mean StandardForm, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – Sjoerd C. de Vries Apr 28 '14 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @SjoerdC.deVries Yes, StandardForm for the first half of the sentence. However, when editing the cell/copy pasting, it gets converted to InputForm (with NumberMarks -> True). $\endgroup$ – rm -rf Apr 28 '14 at 18:36

The default value of


means that ` should by default be used in arbitrary-precision but not machine-precision numbers. Arbitrary-precision numbers can contain an arbitrary number of digits e.g. :

Sqrt[3`21] == 1.73205080756887729353

Machine numbers contain the same number of digits and maintain no information on their precision, e.g. :

{Sqrt[3`10] == Sqrt[3] // N, Sqrt[3`10]}
{True, 1.7320508076}

One can force machine numbers to be shown with number marks by :

Block[{$NumberMarks = True}, ToString[N[1/3], InputForm]]

Precision[x] yields the effective number of digits of precision in the number x.

Precision /@ {1/3, 1/3 // N}

enter image description here

Precision[1/3 // N] // N

You can count the number of digits before the backtick, namely 16.
The MachinePrecission is a real number because on the hardware level it is represented in the binary form. This needs 53 bits to represent almost 16 digits :

N@{MachinePrecision*Log[2, 10], MachinePrecision}
{53., 15.9546}  
| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Strange that one needs to round MachinePrecision to see its value. $\endgroup$ – Joseph O'Rourke Mar 14 '12 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Joseph MachinePrecision is a symbolic constant like Pi and E. You can see its value using N[MachinePresicion] as well. This is what Artes did with Precision[1/3 // N] // N . Rounding gives the approximate (integer) number of digits of precision it corresponds to. $\endgroup$ – Szabolcs Mar 14 '12 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Szaboics: Thanks, that makes sense! $\endgroup$ – Joseph O'Rourke Mar 15 '12 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ This is indeed a very educational answer, Artes---Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Joseph O'Rourke Mar 15 '12 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Artes Oops. I had typed $MachinePrecision. That dollar signs, apparently get munged. I might have caught it in a response. But not a comment, as they don't show what the result will look like. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Lichtblau Mar 19 '12 at 1:21

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