Buy a

*decent* calculus book is all I can say.

-1^2 is not open for interpretation. No, not even if you have been taught so by some lying community college pamphlet or other. What you have there is the unary minus operator and the power operator, and operator precedence. As luck would have it, any university level calculus or algebra book I have ever read that starts with a formal definition of the algebra also defines the unary minus roughly like so:

unary minus operator acting on an element

**a**:

**-a**, such that

** (-a) + (a) = 0**And precedence is also totally defined.

**-a^n = -(a^n)**The End. No debate, no context. Come on, this is math. Yes, great idea, lets make things ambiguous when there is an easy way to define things clearly. Pfffffrt.

Of course you don't have to believe me. In which case give me a book reference for a decent uni level calculus or algebra book that opens up the unary minus for debate. That said, it cannot hurt to explicitely use some parenthesis. So yes, I would probably also write (-1)^2 just to be sure there is no confusion induced by a less formal math education. But to say that -1^2 is ambiguous is bullshit. The definition is the definition, and -1^2 = -(1^2) = -1. Power operator takes precedence over unary minus.

The situation also is not helped by programming languages, where things can be different. But we are talking about mathematics in written form here, and there the definition is clear. So please no "examples" from the field of programming please. Different different thing is different because it is not the same. The topic here is written mathematics, zero computers, zero software.

I can quote wikipedia here (since it backs up my argument), but for subtle points like this wikipedia sucks. I certainly would not accept it as an authoritive answer to something like this, so I will not inflict it on someone else either.

This is a reasonable post on the subject, but not authoritive either:

http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/53194.htmlIn closing, get a decent calculus book and check the definitions.