July 28, 2022

Simplifying Expressions - Definition, With Exponents, Examples

Algebraic expressions can appear to be intimidating for beginner learners in their first years of college or even in high school

However, learning how to process these equations is essential because it is foundational information that will help them move on to higher mathematics and complicated problems across multiple industries.

This article will go over everything you need to learn simplifying expressions. We’ll cover the principles of simplifying expressions and then verify our skills via some sample problems.

How Do You Simplify Expressions?

Before learning how to simplify expressions, you must understand what expressions are at their core.

In arithmetics, expressions are descriptions that have no less than two terms. These terms can combine numbers, variables, or both and can be linked through subtraction or addition.

For example, let’s review the following expression.

8x + 2y - 3

This expression combines three terms; 8x, 2y, and 3. The first two consist of both numbers (8 and 2) and variables (x and y).

Expressions that include coefficients, variables, and occasionally constants, are also called polynomials.

Simplifying expressions is essential because it paves the way for grasping how to solve them. Expressions can be written in convoluted ways, and without simplification, anyone will have a hard time trying to solve them, with more possibility for error.

Undoubtedly, every expression vary regarding how they're simplified based on what terms they contain, but there are general steps that are applicable to all rational expressions of real numbers, whether they are logarithms, square roots, etc.

These steps are called the PEMDAS rule, or parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. The PEMDAS rule declares the order of operations for expressions.

  1. Parentheses. Simplify equations inside the parentheses first by applying addition or applying subtraction. If there are terms just outside the parentheses, use the distributive property to apply multiplication the term outside with the one inside.

  2. Exponents. Where feasible, use the exponent properties to simplify the terms that have exponents.

  3. Multiplication and Division. If the equation necessitates it, use multiplication and division to simplify like terms that are applicable.

  4. Addition and subtraction. Lastly, use addition or subtraction the simplified terms of the equation.

  5. Rewrite. Ensure that there are no more like terms that require simplification, and rewrite the simplified equation.

Here are the Properties For Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

In addition to the PEMDAS principle, there are a few additional rules you should be aware of when simplifying algebraic expressions.

  • You can only simplify terms with common variables. When adding these terms, add the coefficient numbers and maintain the variables as [[is|they are]-70. For example, the equation 8x + 2x can be simplified to 10x by applying addition to the coefficients 8 and 2 and leaving the variable x as it is.

  • Parentheses that include another expression outside of them need to utilize the distributive property. The distributive property allows you to simplify terms outside of parentheses by distributing them to the terms on the inside, for example: a(b+c) = ab + ac.

  • An extension of the distributive property is called the property of multiplication. When two separate expressions within parentheses are multiplied, the distributive property applies, and each unique term will will require multiplication by the other terms, resulting in each set of equations, common factors of one another. Such as is the case here: (a + b)(c + d) = a(c + d) + b(c + d).

  • A negative sign outside an expression in parentheses denotes that the negative expression will also need to have distribution applied, changing the signs of the terms on the inside of the parentheses. Like in this example: -(8x + 2) will turn into -8x - 2.

  • Similarly, a plus sign on the outside of the parentheses means that it will have distribution applied to the terms on the inside. But, this means that you can eliminate the parentheses and write the expression as is due to the fact that the plus sign doesn’t alter anything when distributed.

How to Simplify Expressions with Exponents

The prior properties were easy enough to follow as they only applied to principles that affect simple terms with variables and numbers. Despite that, there are additional rules that you must implement when working with exponents and expressions.

In this section, we will review the principles of exponents. Eight properties impact how we utilize exponents, those are the following:

  • Zero Exponent Rule. This property states that any term with a 0 exponent is equal to 1. Or a0 = 1.

  • Identity Exponent Rule. Any term with a 1 exponent doesn't alter the value. Or a1 = a.

  • Product Rule. When two terms with equivalent variables are multiplied by each other, their product will add their exponents. This is written as am × an = am+n

  • Quotient Rule. When two terms with matching variables are divided, their quotient applies subtraction to their respective exponents. This is seen as the formula am/an = am-n.

  • Negative Exponents Rule. Any term with a negative exponent is equivalent to the inverse of that term over 1. This is written as the formula a-m = 1/am; (a/b)-m = (b/a)m.

  • Power of a Power Rule. If an exponent is applied to a term that already has an exponent, the term will end up having a product of the two exponents applied to it, or (am)n = amn.

  • Power of a Product Rule. An exponent applied to two terms that have differing variables should be applied to the required variables, or (ab)m = am * bm.

  • Power of a Quotient Rule. In fractional exponents, both the numerator and denominator will acquire the exponent given, (a/b)m = am/bm.

How to Simplify Expressions with the Distributive Property

The distributive property is the property that shows us that any term multiplied by an expression within parentheses must be multiplied by all of the expressions inside. Let’s witness the distributive property in action below.

Let’s simplify the equation 2(3x + 5).

The distributive property states that a(b + c) = ab + ac. Thus, the equation becomes:

2(3x + 5) = 2(3x) + 2(5)

The expression then becomes 6x + 10.

Simplifying Expressions with Fractions

Certain expressions can consist of fractions, and just like with exponents, expressions with fractions also have multiple rules that you need to follow.

When an expression has fractions, here is what to remember.

  • Distributive property. The distributive property a(b+c) = ab + ac, when applied to fractions, will multiply fractions one at a time by their numerators and denominators.

  • Laws of exponents. This tells us that fractions will typically be the power of the quotient rule, which will apply subtraction to the exponents of the numerators and denominators.

  • Simplification. Only fractions at their lowest should be expressed in the expression. Apply the PEMDAS rule and ensure that no two terms possess matching variables.

These are the exact principles that you can apply when simplifying any real numbers, whether they are binomials, decimals, square roots, linear equations, quadratic equations, and even logarithms.

Practice Examples for Simplifying Expressions

Example 1

Simplify the equation 4(2x + 5x + 7) - 3y.

In this example, the properties that need to be noted first are PEMDAS and the distributive property. The distributive property will distribute 4 to the expressions inside the parentheses, while PEMDAS will decide on the order of simplification.

As a result of the distributive property, the term outside of the parentheses will be multiplied by the terms inside.

The resulting expression becomes:

4(2x) + 4(5x) + 4(7) - 3y

8x + 20x + 28 - 3y

When simplifying equations, you should add all the terms with the same variables, and each term should be in its most simplified form.

28x + 28 - 3y

Rearrange the equation like this:

28x - 3y + 28

Example 2

Simplify the expression 1/3x + y/4(5x + 2)

The PEMDAS rule expresses that the you should begin with expressions within parentheses, and in this case, that expression also requires the distributive property. Here, the term y/4 will need to be distributed amongst the two terms inside the parentheses, as follows.

1/3x + y/4(5x) + y/4(2)

Here, let’s put aside the first term for the moment and simplify the terms with factors associated with them. Remember we know from PEMDAS that fractions will require multiplication of their denominators and numerators separately, we will then have:

y/4 * 5x/1

The expression 5x/1 is used to keep things simple because any number divided by 1 is that same number or x/1 = x. Thus,



The expression y/4(2) then becomes:

y/4 * 2/1


Thus, the overall expression is:

1/3x + 5xy/4 + 2y/4

Its final simplified version is:

1/3x + 5/4xy + 1/2y

Example 3

Simplify the expression: (4x2 + 3y)(6x + 1)

In exponential expressions, multiplication of algebraic expressions will be used to distribute every term to one another, which gives us the equation:

4x2(6x + 1) + 3y(6x + 1)

4x2(6x) + 4x2(1) + 3y(6x) + 3y(1)

For the first expression, the power of a power rule is applied, which tells us that we’ll have to add the exponents of two exponential expressions with similar variables multiplied together and multiply their coefficients. This gives us:

24x3 + 4x2 + 18xy + 3y

Due to the fact that there are no more like terms to apply simplification to, this becomes our final answer.

Simplifying Expressions FAQs

What should I keep in mind when simplifying expressions?

When simplifying algebraic expressions, keep in mind that you must follow the distributive property, PEMDAS, and the exponential rule rules and the concept of multiplication of algebraic expressions. Finally, make sure that every term on your expression is in its lowest form.

How are simplifying expressions and solving equations different?

Simplifying and solving equations are quite different, however, they can be part of the same process the same process because you have to simplify expressions before solving them.

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