Take a sheet of A4 paper and measure its sides. A4 is 210 millimetres wide and 297 millimetres long. It’s probably the most common size of paper and it’s used in most countries. However, A4 side lengths aren’t simple numbers like 200 or 300 millimetres. So why don’t we use something easier to measure?

If you take a sheet of paper and cut it halfway down the longer side, you end up with two new pieces of paper. These pieces of paper each have half the area of the original sheet, but they are the same proportions as the original sheet! There’s only one type of rectangle that has this ability. Because these half sheets have the same proportions as A4, they also have a name – A5. If you cut an A5 sheet in half, you get two pieces of A6 paper, with the same proportions as A5 and A4. All these paper sizes are part of a set called the A series.

This pattern also works if you want to go bigger instead of smaller. If you take two sheets of A4 paper and stick the long sides together, you’ll end up with a sheet of paper that has the same proportions as A4, but is twice as big. This size is called A3. You can use the same process to make A3 sheets into A2, and even A2 sheets into A1 paper.

So why is A4 paper called A4? A4 is half an A3, or one quarter of A2, but more importantly, it’s one sixteenth of A0. A0 has an area of one square metre (but it isn’t a square), and every other paper size in the A series is based on A0. We use A4 for writing on because it is a lot more convenient than trying to write on a square metre sheet of paper!

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