Do variables really stand for anything?

Sometimes teachers say that variables stand for anything but wouldn't this lead to contradictions like the variable a standing for -a?

So to check, variables don't literally stand for any other thing?

Also, I've been gone for a while and I don't see the forum rules here anymore. Can anyone remind point me to the rules?

Re: Do variables really stand for anything?

A variable **always** stands for something! When a teacher says that a variable **can** stand for anything, he/she is saying that the particular value can be anything. It does not mean that you can replace that variable with **anything** and get a true statement.

As for your a= -a, "a" **cannot** 'stand for' -a because -a is another variable, not a possible value of a variable. In fact, if a is a variable with the property that a= -a, then (assuming a is a number or, more generally, an object in some algebraic system with additive inverses [so that "-a" makes sense]) we can add a to both sides to get 2a= 0 so that a= 0. **That** is the value a represents.