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A superscript is a character or string that is smaller than the preceding text and sits above the baseline. Superscripts have several applications in both math and writing.

In math, superscripts are commonly used for exponents. For example:

23 = 8

The calculation above can also be written as 2^3 = 8. The caret symbol (^) is often used as an alternative when superscript text formatting is not available. Both "23" and "2^3" can be described as "two to the third power," where "3" is the exponent.

In writing, superscripts have several different uses. Examples include footnotes, ordinal indicators, and trademarks. A footnote is a letter or number, typically placed at the end of a sentence, that refers to a reference or citation. The actual citation, which is preceded by the corresponding letter or number, may be located at the end of the page, document, or literary work. For example, the "c" is the footnote in the sentence below.

The population of the United States in 2015 is estimated to be 320 million. c

Ordinal indicators may also be written using superscript, such as the following examples:

1st (first), 2nd (second), 3rd (third).

Finally, trademarks and service marks are often displayed in superscript, such as ™ and ℠.

Most word processors support both subscript and superscript text. HTML provides the <sup> tag for displaying superscript in a webpage. If you are editing a plain text document or using a program that doesn't support superscript, you can represent superscript text using other methods. For example, mathematical exponents can be denoted with the caret symbol (^). Footnotes and trademarks can be denoted using parentheses, such as (a) for a footnote or (TM) for a trademark. Ordinal notation does not require superscript and can be written 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.

Updated: May 14, 2015

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