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Math Glossary

ABSOLUTE VALUE—the magnitude of a number, irrespec- ANGLE—two line segments coming together at a point
tive of its sign. Written as a number inside vertical lines: called the vertex.
⏐3⏐=3 and ⏐–3⏐ = 3.
ACUTE ANGLE—an angle measuring less than 90°.
A triangle with three acute angles is called an acute

ADJACENT ANGLES—two angles having a common side B C

and a common vertex.

The angle above could be called ∠ABC, ∠B, or ∠x.

ARC—a portion of the circumference of a circle.

In the figure above, angles x and y are adjacent. (They

are also supplementary.)

ALGEBRAIC EXPRESSION—one or more algebraic terms

connected with plus and minus signs. An algebraic
expression is not an equation because it has no equal

ALTITUDE—a perpendicular segment whose length can be

used in calculating the area of a triangle or other polygon.
1 of a full circle’s 360°, the
Because the central angle is 
length of minor arc AB is  the circumference.

AREA—a measure, in square units, of the size of a region

in a plane. Finding the area of a figure invariably involves
multiplying two dimensions, such as length and width, or
base and height.
In the figure above,   is an altitude of ΔABC, and G
BD J is
an altitude of parallelogram EFGH.
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AVERAGE—the sum of a group of numbers divided by the CENTRAL ANGLE—an angle formed by two radii of a circle.
number of numbers in the group. To find the average of
central angle
2, 7, and 15, divide the sum (2 + 7 + 15 = 24) by the
number of numbers (3): 24 ÷ 3 = 8.

AVERAGE RATE—Average A per B =  Total A . Average

Total B
Total distance . To get the average speed, don’t O B
speed = 
Total time
just average the speeds.

AXES—the perpendicular “number lines” in the coordinate

In the figure above, ∠AOB is a central angle.

y-axis CHORD—a line segment connecting two points on a circle.


BASE—a side of a polygon that will be used with an

altitude in calculating the area; a face of a solid, the area
of which will be used with an altitude in calculating the
volume. In the figure above,  and 
AB  are chords of circle O.
Because it passes through the center,  is also a

CIRCLE—the set of points in a plane at a particular

distance from a central point. A circle is not a polygon
because it is not made up of straight sides.

CIRCUMFERENCE—the distance around a circle. The

circumference of a circle is analogous to the perimeter
of a polygon.
In the figure above, 
AC is the base of the triangle, and
CIRCUMSCRIBED—drawn outside another figure with as
circle O is the base of the cone.
many points touching as possible.
BINOMIAL—an algebraic expression with two terms.
The FOIL method of multiplying works only for a pair of

BISECTOR—a line or line segment that divides an angle in

half. The bisector of a 90° angle divides it into two 45°
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CONE—a solid with a circle at one end and a single point

at the other.

In the figure above, the circle is circumscribed about

the square; d is both a diagonal of the square and a
diameter of the circle.

COEFFICIENT—the numerical or “constant” part of an CONGRUENT—identical; of the same size and shape.
algebraic term. In the monomial –4x2y, the coefficient is Congruent polygons have the same angles and side
–4. In the expression ax2 + bx + c, a, b, and c are the lengths.
CONSECUTIVE—one after another, in order, without skip-
COMMON DENOMINATOR—a number that can be used ping any. The numbers 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, and 21 are
as the denominator for two or more fractions so that they consecutive multiples of 3.
can be added or subtracted. Before you can add the
5 and 5 , you first re-express them with a COORDINATES—the pair of numbers, written inside paren-
6 8 theses, that specifies the location of a point in the coordi-
5 = 20 and 5 = nate plane. The first number is the x-coordinate and the
common denominator, such as 24:   
6 24 8 second number is the y-coordinate.
15 .

COSECANT—the ratio of the hypotenuse to the opposite
COMMON FACTOR—a factor shared by two integers. Any leg. The cosecant of ∠A in the figure below is
two integers will have at least 1 for a common factor. hypotenuse 13
 =  .
opposite 5
COMMON MULTIPLE—a multiple shared by two integers.
You can always get a common multiple for two integers
by multiplying them, though that will not necessarily be 13 inches
the least common multiple.
5 inches
measures add up to 90°. A 30° angle and a 60° angle 12 inches
are complementary.

COSINE—the ratio of the adjacent leg to the

hypotenuse. The cosine of ∠A in the figure above is
adjacent 12
 =  .
hypotenuse 13
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COTANGENT—the ratio of the adjacent leg to the opposite DENOMINATOR—the number below the fraction bar.
leg. The cotangent of ∠A in the figure above is  When you increase the denominator of a positive fraction,
12 . opposite
=  you decrease the value of the fraction: 7 is less than
5 11
CUBE—a rectangular solid whose faces are all squares.
DIAGONAL—a line segment connecting two nonadjacent
vertices of a polygon. A diagonal divides a rectangle into
two right triangles.

DIAMETER—(the length of) a line segment connecting

two points on a circle and passing through the center. A
diameter is a chord of maximum length.

DIFFERENCE—the result of subtraction. The positive

difference between 3 and 7 is 4.
CUBE (of a number)—the third power. The cube of a
negative number is negative. DIGIT—one of the numbers from 0 through 9. In the
3-digit number 355, the hundreds’ digit is 3, the tens’
CYLINDER—a solid with two circular ends connected by digit is 5, and the ones’ digit is 5.
“straight” sides.
DISTINCT—different, distinguishable. The number 355 has
2 distinct digits: 3 and 5.

EDGE—a line segment formed by the intersection of two



DECIMAL—a noninteger written with digits and a decimal

point. A decimal is equivalent to a common fraction
whose denominator is 10, 100, or 1,000, etcetera.

DEGREE—one 360th of a full rotation. A right angle A rectangular solid has 12 edges.
measures 90 degrees—often written 90°.
ELLIPSE—a set of points in a plane for which the sum of
DEGREE OF AN EQUATION—the greatest exponent in a the distances from two points (called foci) is constant.
single-variable equation. The equation x3 – 9x = 0 is a
third-degree equation because the biggest exponent is 3.
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EQUATION—a statement of equality between two

quantities. It’s an equation if it includes an equal sign.

EQUATION OF A LINE—an equation that describes the

relationship between the x- and y-coordinates of every The exterior angles of a regular pentagon each measure
point on the line in the coordinate plane. The equation of 72°.
the x-axis is y = 0, and the equation of the y-axis is x = 0.
FACE—a polygon formed by edges of a solid.
EQUILATERAL TRIANGLE—a triangle with three equal
sides. faces

A rectangular solid has 6 faces.

FACTOR (of n)—a positive integer that divides into n with

All equilateral triangles are similar—they all have three 60° no remainder. The complete list of factors of 18 is: 1, 2,
angles. 3, 6, 9, and 18.

EVEN NUMBER—a multiple of 2. The set of even FACTORING (a polynomial)—re-expressing a polynomial

numbers includes not only 2, 4, 6, etcetera, but also 0, as the product of simpler expressions. The complete
–2, –4, –6, etcetera. factorization of 2x2 + 7x + 3 is (2x + 1)(x + 3).

EXPONENT—the small, raised number written to the right FRACTION—a number expressed as a ratio. In everyday
of a variable or number, indicating the number of times speech, the word fraction implies something less than 1,
that variable or number is to be used as a factor. In the but to a mathematician, any number written in the form
expression –4x3, the exponent is 3, so –4x3 = –4•x•x•x. A
 is a fraction.
EXTERIOR ANGLE—the angle created outside a polygon
when one side is extended. The exterior angles of any
polygon add up to 360°.
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GRAPH OF AN EQUATION—a line or curve in the coordi- IMAGINARY—not real, usually because of the square
nate plane that represents all the ordered pair solutions of root of a negative number. The square root of –4 is an
an equation. imaginary number.

IMPROPER FRACTION—a fraction with a numerator that’s

greater than the denominator.  35 is an improper fraction

and is therefore greater than 1.

INEQUALITY—a statement that compares the size of two

quantities. There are four inequality symbols: < (“less
than”), ≤ “(less than or equal to”), > (“greater than”), and
≥ (“greater than or equal to”).

INSCRIBED—drawn inside another figure with as many

points touching as possible.

The figure above shows the graph of the equation x2 + y2

= 25.

GREATEST COMMON FACTOR—the greatest integer that

is a factor of both numbers under consideration. The
greatest common factor (GCF) of relative primes is 1. d

HEXAGON—a six-sided polygon.

120° 120°

When a circle is inscribed within a square, the diameter d

120° 120° of the circle is the same as a length of a side s of the
120° square.

The six angles of a regular hexagon each measure 120°. INTEGER—a whole number; 325, 0, and –29 are integers.

HYPOTENUSE—the side of a right triangle opposite the INTERCEPT—the point where a given line crosses
right angle. the x-axis or y-axis.


The hypotenuse is always the longest side.

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y = –x + 1
The angles opposite the equal sides of an isosceles
triangle are also equal.

The y-intercept is the b in the slope-intercept form LEAST COMMON MULTIPLE—the smallest number that
y = mx + b. is a multiple of both given numbers. The least common
multiple of relative primes is their product.
INTERIOR ANGLE—an angle inside a polygon formed by
two adjacent sides. Every polygon has the same number LEGS (of a right triangle)—the sides that make up the
of interior angles as sides. right angle.

interior angle

108° 108°

108° 108°

You can use the legs as the base and altitude to find the
The interior angles of a regular pentagon each measure area of a right triangle.
LIKE TERMS—algebraic terms in which the elements other
IRRATIONAL—real, but not capable of being expressed as than the coefficients are alike. 2ab and 3ab are like
a ratio of integers. 2,
 3, and π are irrational numbers. terms, and so they can be added: 2ab + 3ab = 5ab.

ISOSCELES TRIANGLE—a triangle with two sides of equal LINE—a straight row of points extending infinitely in both
length. directions. A line has only one dimension.

LINE SEGMENT—a straight row of points connecting two

endpoints. Each side of a polygon is a line segment.

LINEAR EQUATION—a single-variable equation with no

exponent greater than 1. A linear equation is also called a
first-degree equation.
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MIDPOINT—the point that divides a line segment in half. ODD NUMBER—an integer that is not a multiple of 2.
Any integer that’s not even is odd.

ORIGIN—the point where the x- and y-axes intersect.

In the figure above, B is the midpoint of A , so AB = BC. The origin represents the point (0,0).

PARABOLA—the set of points in a plane that are the same

MIXED NUMBER—a noninteger greater than 1 written with
distance from a point called the focus and a line called the
a whole number part and a fractional part. The mixed

number 4 2 can also be expressed as the improper

3 parabola
fraction  .

MONOMIAL—an algebraic expression consisting of exactly

one term.

MULTIPLE (of n)—a number that n will divide into with no focus
remainder. Some of the multiples of 18 are: 0, 18, and
90. directrix

NEGATIVE—less than zero. The greatest negative integer PARALLEL LINES—coplanar lines that never intersect.
is –1. Parallel lines are the same distance apart at all points.

NUMERATOR—the number above the fraction bar. When PARALLELOGRAM—a quadrilateral with two pairs of
parallel sides.
you increase the numerator of a positive fraction, you
13 is greater than
increase the value of the fraction: 

OBTUSE ANGLE—an angle measuring more than 90° and

less than 180°. An obtuse triangle is one that has one
obtuse angle.

OCTAGON—an eight-sided polygon.

Opposite sides of a parallelogram are equal; opposite
angles of a parallelogram are also equal.

Each of the interior angles of a regular octagon measures

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PENTAGON—a five-sided polygon. POLYGON—a closed figure composed of any number of

straight sides.

The interior angles of any pentagon add up to 540°.

Each of the interior angles of a regular pentagon
measures 108°.

Triangles, squares, trapezoids, and pentagons are all

PERCENT—one hundredth. 20% means 20 hundredths, or
20 1 polygons, but circles and ellipses are not.
 = .
100 5
POLYNOMIAL—an algebraic expression that is the sum of
PERCENT INCREASE/DECREASE—amount of increase or two or more terms. Binomials and trinomials are just two
decrease expressed as a percent of the original amount. A types of polynomials.
decrease from 100 to 83 is a 17% decrease.
POSITIVE—greater than zero. Zero is not a positive
PERIMETER—the sum of the lengths of the sides of a number.
polygon. Two polygons with the same area do not
necessarily have the same perimeter. POWER—a product obtained by multiplying a quantity by
itself one or more times. The fifth power of 2 is 32.
PERPENDICULAR—intersecting at a right angle. The
altitude and base of a triangle are perpendicular. PRIME FACTORIZATION—an integer expressed as the
product of prime numbers. The prime factorization of 60
PI—an irrational number, approximately 3.14, which is is 2 × 2 × 3 × 5.
equal to the ratio of the circumference of any circle to its
diameter. The symbol for pi is π. Pi appears in the formu- PRIME NUMBER—an integer greater than 1 that has no
las for the circumference and area of a circle, as well for factors other than 1 and itself. The first 10 prime numbers
the volumes of a sphere, a cylinder, and a cone. are: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, and 29. Notice that 2 is
the only even prime number.
POINT—a precise position in space. A point has no length,
breadth, or thickness. PROBABILITY—the likelihood of a particular event,
expressed as the ratio of the number of “favorable”
occurrences to the total number of possible occurrences.
Probability is a part-to-whole ratio and can therefore never
be greater than 1.

PRODUCT—the result of multiplication. The product of 3

and 4 is 12.
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PROPORTION—an expression of the equality of ratios.

Corresponding sides of similar figures are proportional.

PYTHAGOREAN THEOREM—the rule that states, “for any

right triangle, the sum of the squares of the legs is equal
to the square of the hypotenuse.”

QUOTIENT—the result of division. When 12 is divided by

3, the quotient is 4.

RADIAN—a unit for expressing the measure of an angle.

If you call the lengths of the legs a and b and the length
of the hypotenuse c, you can write “a2 + b2 = c2.”

QUADRANT—one of the four regions into which the axes

divide the coordinate plane.


The angle shown in the figure above measures  3π

radians, which is the same as 135°. It’s no coincidence
3π is also the length of the arc shown.
When you know the signs of the coordinates, you know
which quadrant contains that point. For any point in
Quadrant IV, for example, the x-coordinate is positive and
RADICAL—the symbol , which by itself represents the
the y-coordinate is negative. positive square root, and with a little number written in—
as in —represents a higher root. By convention, 
QUADRATIC EQUATION—a second-degree equation. represents the positive square root only.
Quadratic equations with one unknown often have two
solutions. RADIUS—(the length of) a line segment connecting the
center and a point on a circle. The radius is half the
QUADRILATERAL—a four-sided polygon. Squares, diameter.
rectangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids are all
quadrilaterals. RATE—a ratio of quantities measured in different units. The
most familiar rates have units of time after the word per,
such as: meters per second, pages per hour, inches per
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RATIO—a fraction that expresses the relative sizes of two REGULAR POLYGON—a polygon with all equal sides
quantities. A ratio is generally expressed with the words and all equal angles. Equilateral triangles and squares are
“of” and “to”: as in “the ratio of girls to boys.” regular polygons.

RATIONAL—capable of being expressed as a ratio of

integers. The repeating decimal .074074074074 . . . is a
rational number because it can be written as 2 .

REAL—having a place on the number line. π is a real

number because it has a location—somewhere just to the
right of 3.14—on the number line.
RELATIVE PRIMES—positive integers that have no
RECIPROCALS—a pair of numbers whose product is 1. To factors in common. Thirty-five and 54 are relative primes
get the reciprocal of a fraction, switch the numerator and because their prime factorizations (35 = 5 × 7, and 54 =
2 is 7 . 2 × 3 × 3 × 3) have nothing in common.
denominator: the reciprocal of  
7 2
REPEATING DECIMAL—a decimal with a digit or cluster of
RECTANGLE—a quadrilateral with four right angles. All
1 is equivalent
digits that repeats indefinitely. The fraction 
rectangles are parallelograms, but not all parallelograms
are rectangles.
to the repeating decimal .142857142857142857. . . ,

RECTANGULAR SOLID—a solid whose faces are all 4

which can be written as .12
RHOMBUS—a quadrilateral with four equal sides.

rectangular solids

The diagonals of a rhombus are perpendicular.

REDUCING A FRACTION—expressing a fraction in lowest RIGHT ANGLE—an angle measuring 90°. A rectangle is a
terms by factoring out and canceling common factors.  polygon with four right angles.
reduces to 3.
4 RIGHT TRIANGLE—a triangle with a right angle. Every right
triangle has exactly two acute angles.

ROOT—a number that multiplied by itself a certain

number of times will yield the given quantity. The third
root of 8 is 2.

SCALENE TRIANGLE—a triangle with sides of different

lengths. A 3-4-5 triangle is a scalene triangle.
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SECANT—the ratio of the hypotenuse to the adjacent leg. SINE—the ratio of the opposite leg to the hypotenuse.
The secant is the reciprocal of the cosine.

13 inches
13 inches 5 inches
5 inches

12 inches
12 inches
5 .
In the figure above, the sine of ∠A is 
13 .
In the figure above, the secant of ∠A is 
SLOPE—a description of the “steepness” of a line in the
SECTOR—a region bounded by two radii and an arc. Change in y
coordinate plane, defined as  . Lines that go
Change in x
“uphill” (left to right) have positive slopes, and lines that

go “downhill” have negative slopes. A horizontal line—

that is, a line parallel to the x-axis—is “flat” and has a

slope of 0.

line 1 slope = 1
line 2 slope = 0

Because the central angle of 40° is 1 of the full circle’s

360°, the area of the shaded sector is 1 of the area of
the whole circle.

SIMILAR—proportional; of the same shape. Similar

polygons have the same angles.
line 3 slope = –1

SLOPE-INTERCEPT FORM—an equation in the form

y = mx + b. In this form, m is the slope and b is the y-
intercept. Line 1 in the figure above has a slope of 1 and
a y-intercept of 4, so its equation is y = x + 4. Line 2’s
equation is y = 4. Line 3’s equation is y = –x – 3.
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SOLID—a three-dimensional figure. tangent

Cubes, cylinders, cones, and spheres are all solids.

SOLVING—isolating the given variable.

SPHERE—the set of all points in space a particular distance

from a central point. Visualize a sphere as a ball.
TERM—a part of an algebraic expression that either stands
SQUARE—a quadrilateral with four equal sides and four by itself or is connected to other terms with plus and
right angles. A square can be thought of as a rectangular minus signs. A term has three parts: the coefficient, the
rhombus. variable(s), and the exponent(s).

SQUARE ROOT—a number that when squared yields the TRANSVERSAL—a line that intersects two parallel lines.
given quantity. Positive numbers each have two square
roots, but negative numbers have no real square roots.

SUM—the result of addition. The sum of 3 and 4 is 7.

SUPPLEMENTARY ANGLES—two angles whose measures

add up to 180°.

SURFACE AREA—the sum of the areas of the surfaces of a A transversal across parallel lines creates two sets of four
solid. Surface area is measured in square units. equal angles.

SYSTEM OF EQUATIONS—two or more equations in TRAPEZOID—a quadrilateral with one pair of parallel sides.
which each variable represents the same quantity in one
equation as in another.

TANGENT—the ratio of the opposite leg of a right triangle

to the adjacent leg.

TANGENT (of a circle)—a line that intersects a circle at

exactly one point. Visualize a tangent as a line that just
barely “touches” the circle.
TRIANGLE—a three-sided polygon. The three angles of a
triangle add up to 180°.
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UNDEFINED—not covered by the rules. Division by 0 is VERTICAL ANGLES—angles across the vertex of
undefined. intersecting lines. Vertical angles are equal.

VARIABLE—a letter representing an unknown or

unspecified quantity. The letter most commonly used
for a variable is x.

VERTEX—a point of intersection, such as a corner of a

rectangular solid or a polygon.

vertices In the figure above,∠ q and ∠ s are vertical angles, as are

∠ p and∠ r.

VOLUME—a measure of the amount of “space” contained

within a solid. Computing volume invariably involves
multiplying three dimensions, such as length, width, and