July 28, 2022

Simplifying Expressions - Definition, With Exponents, Examples

Algebraic expressions are one of the most intimidating for new students in their first years of college or even in high school

Still, understanding how to process these equations is critical because it is foundational information that will help them navigate higher math and complicated problems across different industries.

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

How Do I Simplify an Expression?

Before learning how to simplify them, you must grasp 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 linked through addition or subtraction.

As an example, let’s go over the following expression.

8x + 2y - 3

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

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

Simplifying expressions is important because it lays the groundwork for learning how to solve them. Expressions can be written in intricate ways, and without simplification, anyone will have a hard time trying to solve them, with more opportunity for error.

Undoubtedly, all expressions will vary regarding how they are simplified depending on what terms they include, but there are common steps that can be applied 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, short for parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. The PEMDAS rule declares the order of operations for expressions.

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

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

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

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

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

The Properties For Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

Along with the PEMDAS principle, there are a few more rules you need to be aware of when working with algebraic expressions.

  • You can only apply simplification to terms with common variables. When adding these terms, add the coefficient numbers and keep 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 keeping the x as it is.

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

  • An extension of the distributive property is known as the property of multiplication. When two separate expressions within parentheses are multiplied, the distributive principle is applied, and each unique term will need to be multiplied 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 directly outside of an expression in parentheses indicates that the negative expression must 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 outside the parentheses means that it will be distributed to the terms on the inside. Despite that, this means that you can 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 properties were simple enough to follow as they only applied to principles that impact simple terms with numbers and variables. However, there are additional rules that you need to implement when dealing with exponents and expressions.

Next, we will discuss the properties of exponents. 8 properties impact how we process exponentials, which are 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 won't alter the 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 the same variables are divided, their quotient subtracts their two 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 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 possess different variables will be applied to the appropriate variables, or (ab)m = am * bm.

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

How to Simplify Expressions with the Distributive Property

The distributive property is the property that says that any term multiplied by an expression on the inside of a parentheses needs be multiplied by all of the expressions on the inside. 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 resulting expression is 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 remember.

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

  • Laws of exponents. This states that fractions will more likely 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. Apply the PEMDAS principle and make sure that no two terms have matching variables.

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

Sample Questions for Simplifying Expressions

Example 1

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

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

Because of 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, remember to add the terms with matching variables, and all 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 states that the first in order should be expressions inside parentheses, and in this scenario, that expression also requires the distributive property. In this scenario, the term y/4 should be distributed to the two terms on the inside of the parentheses, as follows.

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

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

y/4 * 5x/1

The expression 5x/1 is used to keep things simple 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 every 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, 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 other like terms to simplify, 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 exponential rule, the distributive property, and PEMDAS rules in addition to the principle of multiplication of algebraic expressions. In the end, 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, but, they can be combined the same process since you must first simplify expressions before you begin solving them.

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