July 28, 2022

Simplifying Expressions - Definition, With Exponents, Examples

Algebraic expressions can appear to be scary for budding students in their first years of high school or college

Nevertheless, grasping how to handle these equations is essential because it is foundational information that will help them move on to higher mathematics and complex problems across different industries.

This article will discuss everything you should review to master simplifying expressions. We’ll cover the principles of simplifying expressions and then test what we've learned with some sample questions.

How Does Simplifying Expressions Work?

Before learning how to simplify expressions, you must understand what expressions are to begin with.

In arithmetics, expressions are descriptions that have a minimum of two terms. These terms can combine numbers, variables, or both and can be connected through addition or subtraction.

As an example, let’s take a look at the following expression.

8x + 2y - 3

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

Expressions consisting of coefficients, variables, and occasionally constants, are also referred to as polynomials.

Simplifying expressions is essential because it opens up the possibility of grasping how to solve them. Expressions can be written in complicated ways, and without simplifying them, anyone will have a hard time trying to solve them, with more opportunity for a mistake.

Obviously, every expression differ concerning how they are simplified depending on what terms they contain, but there are general steps that are applicable to all rational expressions of real numbers, regardless of whether they are logarithms, square roots, etc.

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

  1. Parentheses. Solve equations inside the parentheses first by using addition or subtracting. 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 workable, use the exponent principles to simplify the terms that include exponents.

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

  4. Addition and subtraction. Lastly, use addition or subtraction the remaining terms in the equation.

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

Here are the Properties For Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

In addition to the PEMDAS rule, there are a few additional rules you need to be informed of when dealing with algebraic expressions.

  • You can only simplify terms with common variables. When applying addition to these terms, add the coefficient numbers and maintain the variables as [[is|they are]-70. For example, the expression 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 containing another expression on the outside of them need to apply the distributive property. The distributive property gives you the ability to to simplify terms outside of parentheses by distributing them to the terms on the inside, as shown here: a(b+c) = ab + ac.

  • An extension of the distributive property is referred to as the concept of multiplication. When two distinct expressions within parentheses are multiplied, the distributive rule is applied, and each individual term will will require multiplication by the other terms, making each set of equations, common factors of each other. Such as is the case here: (a + b)(c + d) = a(c + d) + b(c + d).

  • A negative sign outside an expression in parentheses means 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.

  • Similarly, a plus sign right outside the parentheses means that it will have distribution applied to the terms on the inside. But, this means that you are able to remove the parentheses and write the expression as is because the plus sign doesn’t alter anything when distributed.

How to Simplify Expressions with Exponents

The prior principles were easy enough to use as they only applied to rules that affect simple terms with variables and numbers. However, there are additional rules that you need to follow when dealing with exponents and expressions.

In this section, we will discuss the laws of exponents. Eight properties affect how we deal with exponents, that includes the following:

  • Zero Exponent Rule. This property states that any term with the exponent of 0 equals 1. Or a0 = 1.

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

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

  • Quotient Rule. When two terms with matching variables are divided by each other, their quotient will subtract their respective exponents. This is written as 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 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 already with an exponent, the term will result in 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 different variables should be applied to the respective variables, or (ab)m = am * bm.

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

Simplifying Expressions with the Distributive Property

The distributive property is the rule that states that any term multiplied by an expression within parentheses needs be multiplied by all of the expressions within. Let’s witness the distributive property used 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 result is 6x + 10.

Simplifying Expressions with Fractions

Certain expressions contain fractions, and just as with exponents, expressions with fractions also have several rules that you must follow.

When an expression has fractions, here's 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 subtract the exponents of the denominators and numerators.

  • Simplification. Only fractions at their lowest state should be expressed in the expression. Refer to the PEMDAS principle and make sure that no two terms contain the same variables.

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

Sample Questions for Simplifying Expressions

Example 1

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

In this example, the rules that must be noted first are PEMDAS and the distributive property. The distributive property will distribute 4 to the expressions inside the parentheses, while PEMDAS will govern the order of simplification.

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

The expression is then:

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

8x + 20x + 28 - 3y

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

28x + 28 - 3y

Rearrange the equation as follows:

28x - 3y + 28

Example 2

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

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

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

Here, let’s set aside the first term for now and simplify the terms with factors attached to them. Remember we know from PEMDAS that fractions require multiplication of their denominators and numerators separately, 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 utilized 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, meaning 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 other like terms to be simplified, this becomes our final answer.

Simplifying Expressions FAQs

What should I keep in mind when simplifying expressions?

When simplifying algebraic expressions, remember that you must follow the distributive property, PEMDAS, and the exponential rule rules and the concept of multiplication of algebraic expressions. Ultimately, ensure that every term on your expression is in its most simplified form.

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

Simplifying and solving equations are very different, although, they can be incorporated into the same process the same process due to the fact that you must first simplify expressions before solving them.

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