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Usually figures 1,2,3 of chapter n appears as "n.1, n.2, n.3" in main text and in List of Figures (lof) but this format is not respected if n <= 0, in this case figures appear simply as "1, 2, 3" and the correct format "n.x" show up again only when n > 0.

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Welcome to TeX.sx! Please add a minimal working example (MWE) that illustrates your problem. – Andrew Uzzell Oct 12 '12 at 15:53
This is true in the standard book class, but scrbook gives the "expected" nubbering Figure -1.1 etc. Not sure why you would want that though. – Andrew Swann Oct 12 '12 at 16:06

In book.cls you can find the following code:

\renewcommand \thefigure
     {\ifnum \c@chapter>\z@ \thechapter.\fi \@arabic\c@figure}

This sets the behavior you see. If you want to change it, just redefine \thefigure, deleting the check for positive chapter number:

\renewcommand \thefigure

You need the \makeatletter-\makeatother pair because the code uses @.

Note that neither the standard behavior nor the one you want is, strictly speaking, "better": this is the question of taste. For me "Figure 0.4" or "Figure -1.5" look strange - but if these are your requirements, go ahead and implement them.

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Works! many thanks (btw: I needed Figure 0.4 for the prologue...) – Marco Budinich Oct 13 '12 at 10:32

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