July 28, 2022

Simplifying Expressions - Definition, With Exponents, Examples

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

Nevertheless, learning how to handle these equations is essential because it is basic knowledge that will help them move on to higher arithmetics and complex problems across various industries.

This article will go over everything you should review to learn simplifying expressions. We’ll review the laws of simplifying expressions and then test our comprehension with some sample problems.

How Do I Simplify an Expression?

Before learning 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 contain variables, numbers, or both and can be linked through subtraction or addition.

For example, let’s review the following expression.

8x + 2y - 3

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

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

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

Of course, each expression vary concerning how they're simplified based on what terms they incorporate, but there are common 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 states that the order of operations for expressions.

  1. Parentheses. Simplify equations inside the parentheses first by adding or using subtraction. If there are terms just outside the parentheses, use the distributive property to multiply the term outside with the one inside.

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

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

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

  5. Rewrite. Make sure that there are no additional like terms that require simplification, then rewrite the simplified equation.

The Rules For Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

In addition to the PEMDAS sequence, there are a few additional principles you need to be aware of when dealing with 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 equation 8x + 2x can be simplified to 10x by applying addition to the coefficients 8 and 2 and keeping the variable x as it is.

  • Parentheses containing another expression on the outside of them need to use 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, for example: a(b+c) = ab + ac.

  • An extension of the distributive property is referred to as the concept of multiplication. When two separate expressions within parentheses are multiplied, the distributive rule applies, and each separate term will need to be multiplied by the other terms, resulting in 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 indicates that the negative expression must also need to be distributed, changing the signs of the terms on the inside of the parentheses. For example: -(8x + 2) will turn into -8x - 2.

  • Likewise, a plus sign outside the parentheses denotes that it will be distributed to the terms inside. But, this means that you are able to remove 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 prior properties were easy enough to implement as they only applied to principles that impact simple terms with numbers and variables. Still, there are more rules that you must implement when dealing with expressions with exponents.

Here, we will review the laws of exponents. Eight principles influence how we utilize exponentials, that includes the following:

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

  • Identity Exponent Rule. Any term with the exponent of 1 will not change in value. Or a1 = a.

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

  • Quotient Rule. When two terms with the same variables are divided by each other, their quotient will subtract their 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 being the 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 needs to 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 take the exponent given, (a/b)m = am/bm.

Simplifying Expressions with the Distributive Property

The distributive property is the rule that denotes that any term multiplied by an expression on the inside of a parentheses needs be multiplied by all of the expressions within. Let’s see 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 resulting expression is 6x + 10.

Simplifying Expressions with Fractions

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

When an expression includes 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 subtract the exponents of the numerators and denominators.

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

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

Sample 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 the expressions inside of the parentheses, while PEMDAS will decide on the order of simplification.

Because of the distributive property, the term on the 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 the same variables, and every 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 states that the the order should start with expressions on the inside of parentheses, and in this example, that expression also necessitates the distributive property. In this scenario, the term y/4 should be distributed amongst the two terms on the inside of 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 attached to them. Remember we know from PEMDAS that fractions will need to multiply their numerators and denominators separately, we will then have:

y/4 * 5x/1

The expression 5x/1 is used to keep things simple as 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, meaning that we’ll have to add the exponents of two exponential expressions with like 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 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 have to follow the distributive property, PEMDAS, and the exponential rule rules in addition to the rule of multiplication of algebraic expressions. Ultimately, ensure that every term on your expression is in its lowest form.

How are simplifying expressions and solving equations different?

Solving equations and simplifying expressions are very different, however, they can be combined the same process since you must first simplify expressions before you solve them.

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