# Solve/compute/evaluate: when should we use these verbs?

Today, I've edited the question in this thread, and apparently I did wrong. The question was asking to "solve an (indefinite) integral", which I replaced by "compute an (indefinite) integral". Obviously some people did not agree with that, to begin with the OP.

Disclaimer: I'm not a native English speaker, so by no means I feel like I can have any authority in this matter. So I am seeking advice and insight from experienced people. Also, I did not post this question on ELL.SE because it is clearly context dependent. And the context is mathematics.

My reason: in French, absolutely nobody would say "solve an integral". People most often use "compute", and about as often "evaluate". Moreover, I've already seen someone edit a question in this direction here on MSE. So I concluded, apparently too fast, that it was the same in English and that it was ok to edit.

Question: so typically, copying/pasting from a well-established French usage, I compute or evaluate an integral/derivative/limit, while I solve a question/problem/equation. What is the correct English usage? Thank you very much in advance for your input.

1- solve integrals: 36 500 000.

2- compute integrals: 94 800 000.

3- evaluate integrals: 17 700 000.

• I'm sure Michael Hardy here has a few choice words on this matter... – J. M. ain't a mathematician Apr 11 '13 at 3:05
• @J.M. I keep waiting for Michael Hardy's input... – Julien Apr 13 '13 at 2:18
• I could see "calculate integral" as being another common usage. – Todd Wilcox Apr 17 '13 at 17:53
• @ToddWilcox Oh, yes. That's a good one. I don't know why I did not mention it... – Julien Apr 17 '13 at 19:50
• As a minor aside, "compute" and especially "calculate" have (to me, as a native speaker) a connotation that suggests a definite integral, while "solve" suggests finding an antiderivative. – camccann Apr 22 '13 at 15:47
• @camccann Interesting, thanks. – Julien Apr 22 '13 at 15:49
• @julien: Now that I think about it, though, that may just be a reflection of my computer science background and a tendency to see numerical vs. symbolic evaluation as very different things. :] – camccann Apr 22 '13 at 15:56

• Ok, thanks. It was more the title I was aiming at. I agree the body was ok. I think the asker really means "solve this integral "when he/she writes: "solve $\int f(x)dx$". And I think that's actually what the OP had in mind. But I dont't think I will ever correct that again... – Julien Apr 11 '13 at 1:36