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Properties, Identities, & Inverses

• Distributive property: a (b + c) = ab + ac.
• Identities: values that operate without causing any change.
• Inverses: values that operate to produce the identity.
• Commutative property: a + b = b + a; ab = ba.
• Associative property: a + b + c = (a + b) + c = a + (b + c); abc = (ab)c = a(bc).
• Multiplying by 0: The answer always is 0.

The distributive property requires that a number attached

to parentheses multiply with every quantity contained in the

It may be possible to combine within the parentheses and

then multiply. More often, the multiplication must be done

An identity is a value that operates without creating any

change. There are two identities:

0 is the additive identity. It can be added without changing

any number to which it is added.

1 is the multiplicative identity. It can be multiplied without

changing any number with which it multiplies.

An inverse is the number that can operate with a given

number to produce the identity.

The additive inverse for any number is that number with the
opposite sign. When the number and its inverse are added,
the result is 0.

The multiplicative inverse for any number is the reciprocal

of that number. When the number and its inverse are
multiplied, the result is 1.

Remember: the reciprocal of any number is the number

flipped on its head.

The commutative property indicates that numbers can be

added or multiplied in any order to get the same answer.

In this example, two numbers are added together. Regardless

of which comes first, the addition produces the same result.

In this example, two numbers are multiplied together.

Regardless of which come first, the multiplication produces
the same result.

This property does not hold for subtraction or division. © Thinkwell Corp. 1 


The associative property indicates that numbers can be

grouped in any combination for addition and multiplication
and the operation will produce the same result.

In this addition example, the numbers are grouped in two

ways to show that the final result is the same regardless of
the grouping.

In this multiplication problem the same point is made, again

showing the numbers grouped differently but producing the
same answer.

The number 0 presents special issues for the operations of

multiplication and division.

Multiplication with 0 always produces 0 as the answer. The

underlying cause of that result is that if there are 0 quantities
of any set of objects, there are 0 objects.

Dividing by 0 is never done.

As shown in this example, division depends on knowing that

the dividing number multiplied with the answer produces the
original number.

There is no number that multiplies with 0 to produce any

original number. Therefore, division by 0 cannot be done.

 2 © Thinkwell Corp.