July 28, 2022

Simplifying Expressions - Definition, With Exponents, Examples

Algebraic expressions can be challenging for beginner pupils in their primary years of college or even in high school

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

This article will go over everything you must have to learn simplifying expressions. We’ll cover the laws of simplifying expressions and then verify our skills via some practice problems.

How Do I Simplify an Expression?

Before you can learn how to simplify them, you must learn what expressions are at their core.

In arithmetics, expressions are descriptions that have at least two terms. These terms can include numbers, variables, or both and can be connected through subtraction or addition.

As an example, let’s review the following expression.

8x + 2y - 3

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

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

Simplifying expressions is important because it paves the way for learning how to solve them. Expressions can be expressed in complicated ways, and without simplifying them, everyone will have a hard time attempting to solve them, with more opportunity for a mistake.

Obviously, every expression differ concerning how they're simplified depending on what terms they include, but there are general steps that apply to all rational expressions of real numbers, regardless of whether they are square roots, logarithms, or otherwise.

These steps are refered to as the PEMDAS rule, or parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. The PEMDAS rule states that the order of operations for expressions.

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

  2. Exponents. Where workable, use the exponent principles to simplify the terms that include exponents.

  3. Multiplication and Division. If the equation calls for it, use multiplication or division rules to simplify like terms that apply.

  4. Addition and subtraction. Finally, use addition or subtraction the simplified terms in the equation.

  5. Rewrite. Make sure that there are no more like terms that need to be simplified, and then rewrite the simplified equation.

The Rules For Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

Along with the PEMDAS sequence, there are a few more principles you must be informed of when simplifying algebraic expressions.

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

  • Parentheses containing another expression outside of them need to apply the distributive property. The distributive property gives you the ability to to simplify terms on the 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 known as the property of multiplication. When two stand-alone expressions within parentheses are multiplied, the distributive principle applies, and all individual term will have to be multiplied by the other terms, resulting in each set of equations, common factors of each other. For example: (a + b)(c + d) = a(c + d) + b(c + d).

  • A negative sign right outside of an expression in parentheses denotes that the negative expression will also need to be distributed, changing the signs of the terms on the inside of the parentheses. As is the case in this example: -(8x + 2) will turn into -8x - 2.

  • Likewise, a plus sign on the outside of the parentheses will mean that it will be distributed to the terms on the inside. However, this means that you are able to eliminate the parentheses and write the expression as is due to the fact that the plus sign doesn’t change anything when distributed.

How to Simplify Expressions with Exponents

The previous rules were easy enough to implement as they only applied to properties that impact simple terms with variables and numbers. However, there are a few other rules that you have to implement when dealing with exponents and expressions.

Next, we will discuss the principles of exponents. 8 properties impact how we utilize exponents, that includes the following:

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

  • Identity Exponent Rule. Any term with a 1 exponent will not change in 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 will subtract their two respective exponents. This is expressed in the formula am/an = am-n.

  • Negative Exponents Rule. Any term with a negative exponent equals the inverse of that term over 1. This is expressed with 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 already with 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 possess differing variables will be applied to the respective 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 principle that denotes that any term multiplied by an expression within parentheses needs be multiplied by all of the expressions on the 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.

How to Simplify Expressions with Fractions

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

When an expression consist of fractions, here is what to keep in mind.

  • 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 shows us that fractions will usually be the power of the quotient rule, which will subtract the exponents of the numerators and denominators.

  • Simplification. Only fractions at their lowest form should be included in the expression. Apply the PEMDAS rule and make sure that no two terms contain matching variables.

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

Practice Questions for Simplifying Expressions

Example 1

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

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

Because of the distributive property, the term outside of the parentheses will be multiplied by the individual terms inside.

The expression then becomes:

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

8x + 20x + 28 - 3y

When simplifying equations, be sure to add the terms with matching variables, and each term should be in its lowest form.

28x + 28 - 3y

Rearrange the equation this way:

28x - 3y + 28

Example 2

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

The PEMDAS rule expresses that the first in order should be expressions on the inside of parentheses, and in this scenario, that expression also needs the distributive property. In this scenario, the term y/4 will need to be distributed within the two terms on the inside of the parentheses, as seen in this example.

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

Here, let’s put aside the first term for now and simplify the terms with factors associated with them. Because we know from PEMDAS that fractions will need to multiply their numerators and denominators individually, we will then have:

y/4 * 5x/1

The expression 5x/1 is used for simplicity since 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 all terms to each other, 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 means that we’ll have to add the exponents of two exponential expressions with the same variables multiplied together and multiply their coefficients. This gives us:

24x3 + 4x2 + 18xy + 3y

Since there are no other like terms to apply simplification to, this becomes our final answer.

Simplifying Expressions FAQs

What should I remember when simplifying expressions?

When simplifying algebraic expressions, remember that you are required to obey the distributive property, PEMDAS, and the exponential rule rules and the principle of multiplication of algebraic expressions. Ultimately, ensure that every term on your expression is in its lowest form.

What is the difference between solving an equation and simplifying an expression?

Solving equations and simplifying expressions are quite different, although, they can be combined the same process since you must first simplify expressions before you begin solving them.

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