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and coefficients, that involves only the operations

of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and non-negative integer exponents of

variables. An example of a polynomial of a single indeterminate x is x2 − 4x + 7.

An example in three variables is x3 + 2xyz2 − yz + 1.

example, they are used to form polynomial equations, which encode a wide

range of problems, from elementary word problems to complicated problems in

the sciences; they are used to define polynomial functions, which appear in

settings ranging from basic chemistry and physics to economics and social

science; they are used in calculus and numerical analysis to approximate other

functions. In advanced mathematics, polynomials are used to

construct polynomial rings and algebraic varieties, central concepts

in algebra and algebraic geometry.

variables (like x and y)

exponents (like the 2 in y2), but only 0, 1, 2, 3, ... etc are allowed

that can be combined using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division ...

... not division by a variable (so something like 2/x is right out)

So:

but never division by a variable.

Polynomial or Not?

3x

x−2

−6y2 − (79)x

3xyz + 3xy2z − 0.1xz − 200y + 0.5

512v5 + 99w5

5

(Yes, "5" is a polynomial, one term is allowed, and it can even be just a

constant!)

3xy-2 is not, because the exponent is "-2" (exponents can only be 0,1,2,...)

2/(x+2) is not, because dividing by a variable is not allowed

1/x is not either

√x is not, because the exponent is "½" (see fractional exponents)

also 3x/8 for the same reason

√2 is allowed, because it is a constant (= 1.4142...etc)

but those names are not often used.

Polynomials can have as many terms as needed, but not an infinite number of

terms.

Variables

Or one variable

Example: x4 − 2x2 + x has three terms, but only one variable (x)

Example: xy4 − 5x2z has two terms, and three variables (x, y and z)

If you multiply polynomials you get a polynomial

So you can do lots of additions and multiplications, and still have a polynomial

as the result.

Also, polynomials of one variable are easy to graph, as they have smooth and

continuous lines.

Example: x4−2x2+x

smooth the curve is?

You can also divide polynomials (but the result may not be a polynomial).

Degree

The degree of a polynomial with only one variable is the largest exponent of

that variable.

Example:

Standard Form

The Standard Form for writing a polynomial is to put the terms with the highest

degree first.

The highest degree is 6, so that goes first, then 3, 2 and then the constant last:

x6 + 4x3 + 3x2 − 7

Adding Polynomial

Adding polynomials is just a matter of combining like terms, with some order of

operations considerations thrown in. As long as you're careful with the "minus"

signs, and don't confuse addition and multiplication, you should do fine.

There are a couple formats for adding and subtracting polynomials, and they

hearken back to the two methods you learned for addition and subtract of

plain numbers, back when you were in grade school. First, you learned addition

"horizontally", like this:

6+3=9

That is, you were given relatively small values, and you learned to do the

addition — largely in your head, and by working horizontally. We can add

polynomials in the same way, grouping any "like" terms and then simplifying the

results.

I'll clear the parentheses first. This is easy to do when adding, because there are

no "minus" signs to take through any parentheticals. Then I'll group the like terms

in accordance to their variables (keeping them in alphabetical order), and

finally I'll simplify:

2x + 5y + 3x – 2y

2x + 3x + 5y – 2y

5x + 3y

These two terms are un-like (because they have different variables), so I cannot

combine them. This means that I've gone as far as I can, so my hand-in answer

is:

5x + 3y

Horizontal addition works fine for simple polynomials. But when you were adding

plain old numbers, you didn't generally try to apply horizontal addition to adding

numbers like 432 and 246; instead, you would stack the numbers vertically, one

on top of the other, and then add down the columns (doing "carries", as

necessary):

432+246672

You can do the same thing with polynomials. Here's how the above

simplification exercise looks, when it is done "vertically"

I'll put each variable in its own column; in this case, the first column will be the x-

column, and the second column will be the y-column:

2x3x5x+5y−2y+3y

5x + 3y

The format you use, horizontal or vertical, is a matter of taste (unless the

instructions explicitly tell you otherwise). Given a choice, you should use

whichever format that you're more comfortable and successful with. Note that,

for simple additions, horizontal addition (so you don't have to rewrite the

problem) is probably simplest, but, once the polynomials get complicated,

vertical is probably safest bet (so you don't "drop", or lose, terms and minus

signs).

addition: there is never anything to "carry" from one column to the next.

I can add horizontally:

4x3 + 1x2 – 3x + 1

...or vertically:

3x31x34x3+3x2−2x2+1x2−4x+1x−3x+5−4+1

Either way, I get the same answer. For my final hand-in answer, I'll remove the

"understood" 1s.

4x3 + x2 – 3x + 1

Note that each column in the vertical addition above contains only one degree

of x: the first column above (that is, the left-most column being added down)

was the x3 column, the second column was the x2 column, the third column was

the x column, and the fourth column was the constants column. This is

analogous to having a thousands column, a hundreds column, a tens column,

and a ones column when doing strictly-numerical addition.

And, just as we need to use zeroes to fill empty slots in hundreds columns (or

whichever column has no digit), we need to leave spaces in vertical addition for

any gaps in the powers of variables.

It's perfectly okay to have to add three or more polynomials at once. I'll just go

slowly and do each step throroughly, and it should work out right.

7x2 – x – 4 + x2 – 2x – 3 + –2x2 + 3x + 5

8x2 – 2x2 – 3x + 3x – 7 + 5

6x2 – 2

Note the 1's in the third line. Any time I have a variable without a coefficient,

there is an "understood" 1 as the coefficient. If it's helpful to me to write that 1 in,

then I'll do so.

7x21x2−2x26x2−1x−2x+3x+0x−4−3+5−2

Either way, I get the same answer. For my hand-in answer, I won't include the

"+0x" term.

6x2 – 2

Subtracting Polynomial

those pesky "minus" signs to deal with. If the subtraction is being done

horizontally, then the "minus" signs will need to be taken carefully through the

parentheses. If the subtraction is done vertically, then all that's needed is flipping

all of the subtracted polynomial's signs to their opposites.

The first thing I have to do is take that "minus" sign through the parentheses

containing the second polynomial. Some students find it helpful to put a "1" in

front of the parentheses, to help them keep track of the minus sign.

And here's what the subtraction looks like, when going vertically:

x3−(3x3+3x2−8x2+5x−5x−4+6)

In the horizontal addition (above), you may have noticed that running the

negative through the parentheses changed the sign on each and every term

inside those parentheses. The shortcut when working vertically is to not bother

writing in the subtaction sign or the parentheses; instead, write the second

polynomial in the second row, and then just flip all the signs in that row, "plus" to

"minus" and "minus" to "plus".

I'll change all the signs in the second row (shown in red below), and add down:

x3–4x3−2x3+3x2+8x2+11x2+5x+5x+10x−4–6−10

Simplify (6x3 – 2x2 + 8x) – (4x3 – 11x + 10)

Here's the subtraction, done horizontally:

(6x3 – 2x2 + 8x) – 1(4x3 – 11x + 10)

Going vertically, I'll write out the polynomials, leaving gaps as necessary:

6x34x3−2x2+8x−11x+10

Then I'll flip all of the signs in the second line, and then add down:

6x3–4x32x3−2x2−2x2+8x+11x+19x–10−10

Are we limited to only adding or subtracting pairs of polynomials? No, not at all.

Especially once you get to calculus, it is very likely that it will be necessary to

combine three or more polynomials, some of which are added and others

which are subtracted. Just take care to write things out neatly, and don't try to

do too much in any one step.

Okay; to make this easier on myself, I'm first going to flip all of the signs for the

second parenthetical, because there's currently a "minus" sign in front of that

polynomial. So that middle polynomial becomes:

–x3 – 2x2 – 4

Then I'll set up my simplification (which now involves only addition) in the vertical

format:

x39x38x33x22x2+5x2+10x2−5x−3x−8x−1+4−2+1

8x3 + 10x2 – 8x + 1

Multiplying Polynomials

Just as we can multiply numbers, so also we can multiply polynomials. And just

as some numerical multiplication is easier than others, so it is with polynomials.

through a set of parentheses.

All I have to do here is multiply the –5 by the 2, while carrying the x2 along for

the ride:

–5 (2x2)

(–5)(2)(x2)

–10x2

Simplify the following: 2 (3x + 1)

I have a number (being the 2) that I need to take through (or, using the

technical terms, "distribute over") the parenthetical expression (being the 3x + 1).

I'll show every step:

2 (3x + 1)

2 (3x) + 2 (+1)

(2)(3)(x) + (2)(1)

(6)(x) + 2

6x + 2

At this point, I'm left with two un-like terms, so I cannot combine or simplify any

further. My answer is:

6x + 2

You may already have seen this sort of computation when you learned

about simplifying with parentheses.

(You likely won't need to use so many steps as I did above, at least not once

you're comfortable with the process, and your instructor almost certainly won't

be expecting this much. I'm being overly complete in this lesson in hopes that,

by the time you're done, you're sure of what's going on and are comfortable

with the process.)

"monomials").

Simplify (5x2)(–2x3)

I've already done this type of multiplication when I was first learning

about exponents, negative numbers, and variables. I'll apply the rules that I

already know:

(5x2)(–2x3)

(5)(x2)(–2)(x3)

(5)(–2)(x2)(x3)

(–10)(x2+3)

–10x5

–10x5

Usually (and in contrast to the exercise just completed), a monomial that's going

to be taken through a parenthetical doesn't have parentheses around it.

Instead, the multiplication is indicated simply by the "juxtaposition" of the

monomial with (that is, by putting the monomial right next to) the parenthetical

expression. This is called "multiplication by juxtaposition", and looks like this:

Simplify –3x (1 – x)

I'll need to be careful with my "minus" signs.

–3x (1 – x)

–3x(1) + (–3x)(–x)

–3x + (+3)(x)(+x)

–3x + 3x2

number) through a multi-term polynomial.

To do this multiplication, I have to distribute the –3x through the parentheses:

–3x(4x2 – x + 10)

by another two-term polynomial (that is, one binomial by another binomial). This

is the simplest of the "multi-term times multi-term" cases. There are actually three

ways to do this. Since this is one of the most common polynomial multiplications

that you likely will be doing, I'll spend a fair amount of time on this.

Simplify (x + 3)(x + 2)

The first way I can do this multiplication is by working "horizontally". Doing so, I will

have to distribute twice, taking each of the terms in the first parentheses

"through" each of the terms in the second parentheses.

(x + 3)(x + 2)

(x + 3)(x) + (x + 3)(+2)

x2 + 3x + 2x + 6

x2 + 5x + 6

difficult and error-prone way to do this multiplication. The "vertical" method is

much simpler. Think back to when you were first learning about multiplication.

When you did small numbers, it was simplest to work horizontally:

3 × 4 = 12

But when you got to larger numbers, you stacked the numbers vertically and,

working from right to left, took one digit at a time from the lower number and

multiplied it, right to left, across the top number. For each digit in the lower

number (first the ones digit, then the tens digits, then the hundreds digits, and so

forth), you formed a new row underneath, stepping the rows off to the left as

you worked from right-most digit to left-most digit in the lower number. Then you

added down.

multiply 121 by 32 horizontally, but it's easy when you do it vertically:

You can multiply polynomials in this same manner, so here's the same exercise

as above, but done "vertically" this time:

Simplify (x + 3)(x + 2)

I need to be sure to do my work very neatly. First, I'll set up the multiplication:

...and then I'll multiply:

Multiply the bottom +2by the top +3, and carry down the +6:

Multiply the bottom +2by the top x, and carry down the +2x:

Multiply the bottom xby the top +3, and carry down the +3x:

Multiply the bottom xby the top x, and carry down the x2:

The completed vertical multiplication:

x2 + 5x + 6

Dividing Polynomials

There are two cases for dividing polynomials: either the "division" is really just a

simplification and you're just reducing a fraction (albeit a fraction containing

polynomials), or else you need to do long polynomial division (which is explained

on the next page). We'll start with reduction of a fraction.

22x+4

This "division" is just a simplification problem, because there is only one term in

the polynomial that they're having me dividing by. And, in this case, there is a

common factor in the numerator (top) and denominator (bottom), so it's easy to

reduce this fraction.

There are two ways of proceeding. I can split the division into two fractions,

each with only one term on top, and then reduce each of the two fractions

separately:

...or else I can factor out the common factor from the top and bottom, and

then cancel off this common factor:

x+2

Note: Some students try to "cancel" before factorization. This cannot work!

Fractions have "understood" parentheses around their numerators or

denominators.

such as "(2x + 4)/2", so it's clear what, exactly, is on top and what is underneath.

Otherwise, the typed version would likely be mis-understood to mean "2x + 4/2 =

2x + 2", which is not what was intended.

Even when the fractions are typeset in the math-book upright way, don't forget

that there are (invisible) parentheses around the numerator and

denominator, especially if the top or the bottom of the fraction has more than

one term.

When simplifying polynomial fractions, you can never reach inside those

"understood" parentheses around the numerator and denominator, ripping arms

and legs off of the polynomials within! (The poor little polynomials' big brown

eyes are welling up with tears, just thinking about it!)

Instead, you must factor, and then only cancel off common factors, if any. In

other words, for the exercise above, you must do the following:

7x21x3−35x2

Again, I can solve this in either of two ways. One way is to simplify by splitting up

the sum and then simplifying each fraction separately:

The other way is to simplify by taking the common factor of the numerator and

denominator out front and then canceling it off:

3x2 – 5x

Note: Most books don't talk about the domain at this point. But if your book

does, you will need to note, for the above simplification, that x cannot equal

zero.

Why? Because, in the original (unsimplified) form, letting x equal 0 would have

caused division by zero. That's not allowed. So the original form could not

allow x to equal zero. However, in the simplified form, there is no way to know

about this original-form restriction. For the simplified form to be mathematically

equal to the original expression, the simplified form would need to be "3x2 – 5x,

for all x ≠ 0".

But this is a technical point and, if your book doesn't mention anything about this

now, then don't worry about it for the time being.

x+3x(x+3)−2(x+3)

I can split the difference in the numerator to get the difference of two fractions,

and then I can reduce each fraction separately. Each will have a factor

of x + 3 in the numerator which will cancel with the denominator.

Or, alternatively, I can note that the terms in the numerator do indeed have a

common factor; it's just that this common factor is rather large. Since both terms

in the numerator contain the factor "x + 3", then this is a common factor, and it

can be factored out front. Then the big factor out front will cancel with the

denominator:

Either way, my simplified answer is the same:

x–2

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