July 28, 2022

Simplifying Expressions - Definition, With Exponents, Examples

Algebraic expressions can appear to be challenging for beginner students in their early years of college or even in high school

Nevertheless, understanding how to handle these equations is critical because it is foundational knowledge that will help them move on to higher math and complex problems across multiple industries.

This article will go over everything you must have to learn simplifying expressions. We’ll review the principles of simplifying expressions and then verify what we've learned with some sample problems.

How Do You Simplify Expressions?

Before you can be taught how to simplify expressions, you must understand what expressions are in the first place.

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

As an example, let’s go over 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 containing variables, coefficients, and sometimes constants, are also known as polynomials.

Simplifying expressions is crucial because it paves the way for grasping how to solve them. Expressions can be written in convoluted ways, and without simplifying them, anyone will have a tough time attempting to solve them, with more opportunity for solving them incorrectly.

Undoubtedly, each expression vary in how they are simplified depending on what terms they incorporate, but there are general steps that apply to all rational expressions of real numbers, whether they are square roots, logarithms, or otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

  5. Rewrite. Ensure that there are no additional like terms to simplify, and then rewrite the simplified equation.

The Properties For Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

Beyond the PEMDAS principle, there are a few more properties you must be aware of when working with algebraic expressions.

  • You can only apply simplification to terms with common variables. When applying addition to 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 applying addition to the coefficients 8 and 2 and leaving the variable x as it is.

  • Parentheses that contain another expression on the outside of them need to apply the distributive property. The distributive property prompts you 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 referred to as the concept of multiplication. When two stand-alone expressions within parentheses are multiplied, the distribution property kicks in, and all unique term will will require multiplication by the other terms, making 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 right outside of an expression in parentheses indicates that the negative expression must also need to be distributed, changing the signs of the terms inside the parentheses. Like 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 inside. Despite that, this means that you can eliminate the parentheses and write the expression as is because the plus sign doesn’t change anything when distributed.

How to Simplify Expressions with Exponents

The prior properties were simple enough to follow as they only applied to principles that affect simple terms with numbers and variables. However, there are a few other rules that you must apply when working with exponents and expressions.

Next, we will discuss the properties of exponents. Eight properties affect how we deal with exponents, those are the following:

  • Zero Exponent Rule. This property states that any term with the exponent of 0 is equivalent 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 the same variables are multiplied by each other, 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 applies subtraction to their applicable exponents. This is expressed in the formula am/an = am-n.

  • Negative Exponents Rule. Any term with a negative exponent is equal 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 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 should 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 says that any term multiplied by an expression on the inside of a parentheses must be multiplied by all of the expressions inside. Let’s watch 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 resulting expression is 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's 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 denominators and numerators.

  • Laws of exponents. This shows us that fractions will more likely 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 state should be written in the expression. Apply the PEMDAS property and be sure that no two terms share the same variables.

These are the same properties that you can apply when simplifying any real numbers, whether they are square roots, binomials, decimals, 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 rules that need to be noted first are PEMDAS and the distributive property. The distributive property will distribute 4 to all other expressions inside of the parentheses, while PEMDAS will govern the order of simplification.

Due to the distributive property, the term outside of the parentheses will be multiplied by each term on the inside.

The resulting expression 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 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 requires the distributive property. In this scenario, the term y/4 must be distributed within the two terms within the parentheses, as follows.

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

Here, let’s set aside the first term for now and simplify the terms with factors assigned to them. Because 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 for simplicity 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 utilized to distribute each term 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 similar variables multiplied together and multiply their coefficients. This gives us:

24x3 + 4x2 + 18xy + 3y

Because there are no remaining like terms to be simplified, this becomes our final answer.

Simplifying Expressions FAQs

What should I remember when simplifying expressions?

When simplifying algebraic expressions, keep in mind that you are required to follow PEMDAS, the exponential rule, and the distributive property rules in addition to the concept 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?

Simplifying and solving equations are vastly different, although, they can be part of the same process the same process because you must first simplify expressions before solving them.

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