We write a mass number after an element's name or as a superscript to the left of an element's symbol. For example, the most common isotope of carbon has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. We write it as carbon-12 or 12C.
Mass number is not the same as:
- atomic number (symbol: Z), which is the number of protons in a nucleus of an atom
- atomic mass (symbol: ma), which is the mass of a single atom, commonly expressed in unified atomic mass units
- relative atomic mass (symbol: Ar, also called atomic weight), which is the ratio of the average mass per atom of an element from a given sample to 1/12 the mass of a carbon-12 atom.
The difference between the mass number and the atomic number gives the number of neutrons (N) in a given nucleus: N = A − Z.:44
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