Subtraction is a mathematical operation that represents the operation of removing objects from a collection. It is signified by the minus sign (−). For example, in the picture on the right, there are 5 − 2 apples—meaning 5 apples with 2 taken away, which is a total of 3 apples. Therefore, 5 − 2 = 3. Besides counting fruits, subtraction can also represent combining other physical and abstract quantities using different kinds of objects: negative numbers, fractions, irrational numbers, vectors, decimals, functions, matrices and more. Subtraction follows several important patterns. It is anticommutative, meaning that changing the order changes the sign of the answer. It is not associative, meaning that when one subtracts more than two numbers, the order in which subtraction is performed matters. Subtraction of 0 does not change a number. Subtraction also obeys predictable rules concerning related operations such as addition and multiplication. All of these rules can be proven, starting with the subtraction of integers and generalizing up through the real numbers and beyond. General binary operations that continue these patterns are studied in abstract algebra. Performing subtraction is one of the simplest numerical tasks. Subtraction of very small numbers is accessible to young children. In primary education, students are taught to subtract numbers in the decimal system, starting with single digits and progressively tackling more difficult problems. Mechanical aids range from the ancient abacus to the modern computer.