Three is the largest number still written with as many lines as the number represents. (The Ancient Romans usually wrote 4 as IIII, but this was almost entirely replaced by the subtractive notation IV in the Middle Ages.) To this day 3 is written as three lines in Roman and Chinese numerals. This was the way the Brahmin Indians wrote it, and the Gupta made the three lines more curved. The Nagari started rotating the lines clockwise and ending each line with a slight downward stroke on the right. Eventually they made these strokes connect with the lines below, and evolved it to a character that looks very much like a modern 3 with an extra stroke at the bottom. It was the Western Ghubar Arabs who finally eliminated the extra stroke and created our modern 3. (The "extra" stroke, however, was very important to the Eastern Arabs, and they made it much larger, while rotating the strokes above to lie along a horizontal axis, and to this day Eastern Arabs write a 3 that looks like a mirrored 7 with ridges on its top line): ٣
While the shape of the 3 character has an ascender in most modern typefaces, in typefaces with text figures the character usually has a descender, as, for example, in . In some French text-figure typefaces, though, it has an ascender instead of a descender.
A common variant of the digit 3 has a flat top, similar to the character Ʒ (ezh). Since this form is sometimes used to prevent people from fraudulently changing a 3 into an 8, it is sometimes called a banker's 3.
Three is approximately π (actually closer to 3.14159) when doing rapid engineering guesses or estimates. The same is true if one wants a rough-and-ready estimate of e, which is actually approximately 2.71828.
According to Pythagoras and the Pythagorean school, the number 3, which they called triad, is the noblest of all digits, as it is the only number to equal the sum of all the terms below it, and the only number whose sum with those below equals the product of them and itself.
Three is the second triangular number and it is the only prime triangular number. Three is the only prime which is one less than a perfect square. Any other number which is n2 − 1 for some integer n is not prime, since it is (n − 1)(n + 1). This is true for 3 as well (with n=2), but in this case the smaller factor is 1. If n is greater than 2, both n − 1 and n + 1 are greater than 1 so their product is not prime.
Three non-collinear points determine a plane and a circle.
A natural number is divisible by three if the sum of its digits in base 10 is divisible by 3. For example, the number 21 is divisible by three (3 times 7) and the sum of its digits is 2 + 1 = 3. Because of this, the reverse of any number that is divisible by three (or indeed, any permutation of its digits) is also divisible by three. For instance, 1368 and its reverse 8631 are both divisible by three (and so are 1386, 3168, 3186, 3618, etc.). See also Divisibility rule. This works in base 10 and in any positional numeral system whose base divided by three leaves a remainder of one (bases 4, 7, 10, etc.).
3 is the smallest prime of a Mersenne prime power tower: 3, 7, 127, 170141183460469231731687303715884105727; it is not known whether any more of the terms are prime.
3 is the smallest number of sides that a simple (non-self-intersecting) polygon can have.
It is frequently noted by historians of numbers that early counting systems often relied on the three-patterned concept of "One, Two, Many" to describe counting limits. Early peoples had a word to describe the quantities of one and two, but any quantity beyond was simply denoted as "Many". As an extension to this insight, it can also be noted that early counting systems appear to have had limits at the numerals 2, 3, and 4. References to counting limits beyond these three do not appear to prevail as consistently in the historical record.
The triangle, a polygon with three edges and three vertices, is the most stable physical shape. For this reason it is widely utilized in construction, engineering and design.
The ability of the human eye to distinguish colors is based upon the varying sensitivity of different cells in the retina to light of different wavelengths. Humans being trichromatic, the retina contains three types of color receptor cells, or cones.
Potential converts are traditionally turned away three times to test their sincerity
In the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, it is believed that the soul consists of three parts, with the highest being nefesh ("repose"), the middle being ruach ("wind" or "spirit") and the lowest being neshamah ("breath"). Sometimes the two elements of Chayah ("life" or "animal") and Yechidah ("unit") are additionally mentioned.
In the Kabbalah, the Tree of Life (Hebrew: Etz ha-Chayim, עץ החיים) refers to a latter 3-pillar diagrammatic representation of its central mystical symbol, known as the 10 Sephirot.
Three (三, formal writing: 叁, pinyinsān, Cantonese: saam1) is considered a good number in Chinese culture because it sounds like the word "alive" (生 pinyin shēng, Cantonese: saang1), compared to four (四, pinyin: sì, Cantonese: sei1), which sounds like the word "death" (死 pinyin sǐ, Cantonese: sei2).
Counting to three is common in situations where a group of people wish to perform an action in synchrony: Now, on the count of three, everybody pull! Assuming the counter is proceeding at a uniform rate, the first two counts are necessary to establish the rate, and the count of "three" is predicted based on the timing of the "one" and "two" before it. Three is likely used instead of some other number because it requires the minimal amount counts while setting a rate.
In Vietnam, there is a superstition that considers it bad luck to take a photo with three people in it; it is professed that the person in the middle will die soon.
There is another superstition that it is unlucky to take a third light, that is, to be the third person to light a cigarette from the same match or lighter. This superstition is sometimes asserted to have originated among soldiers in the trenches of the First World War when a sniper might see the first light, take aim on the second and fire on the third.
The phrase "Third time's the charm" refers to the superstition that after two failures in any endeavor, a third attempt is more likely to succeed. This is also sometimes seen in reverse, as in "third man [to do something, presumably forbidden] gets caught".
Luck, especially bad luck, is often said to "come in threes".
A potential "three-point play" exists when a player is fouled while successfully completing a two-point field goal, thus being awarded one additional free throw attempt.
On offense, the "three-second rule" states that an offensive player cannot remain in the opponent's free-throw lane for more than three seconds while his team is in possession of the ball and the clock is running.
In the NBA only, the defensive three-second violation, also known as "illegal defense", states that a defensive player cannot remain in his own free-throw lane for more than three seconds unless he is actively guarding an offensive player.
In gridiron football, a field goal is a scoring play in which a kicker kicks the football from behind the line of scrimmage through the goalposts on the opponent's side of the field. This play, if successful, is worth three points.
A hat trick in sports is associated with succeeding at anything three times in three consecutive attempts, as well as when any player in ice hockey or soccer scores three goals in one game (whether or not in succession). In cricket, if a bowler takes three wickets in a row it is called a hat trick.
A "threepeat" is a term for winning three consecutive championships.
A triathlon consists of three events: swimming, bicycling, and running.
A pin (professional wrestling) in professional wrestling is when one's shoulders are held the opponent's shoulders against the mat for a count of three.