# Real Numbers and Their Properties

Types of Numbers

• Z^{+} Natural numbers - counting numbers -

1, 2, 3, . . . The textbook uses the notation

N.

• Z Integers - 0,±1,±2,±3, . . . The textbook

uses the notation J.

• Q Rationals - quotients (ratios) of integers.

• R Reals - may be visualized as corresponding

to all points on a number line.

The reals which are not rational are called irrational.

,
the field of complex numbers , but in

this course we will only consider real numbers.

## Properties of Real Numbers

There are four binary operations which take a

pair of real numbers and result in another real

number:

Addition (+), Subtraction (−), Multiplication

(× or ·), Division (÷ or /).

These operations satisfy a number of rules. In

the following, we assume a, b, c ∈R. (In other

words, a, b and c are all real numbers.)

• Closure: a+b ∈R, a · b ∈R.

This means we can add and multiply real numbers.

We can also subtract real numbers and

we can divide as long as the denominator is

not 0.

• Commutative Law: a+b = b+a, a · b = b · a.

This means when we add or multiply real numbers,

the order doesn ’t matter.

• Associative Law: (a + b) + c = a + (b + c),

(a · b) · c = a · (b · c).

We can thus write a + b + c or a · b · c without

having to worry that different people will get

different results.

• Distributive Law: a · (b + c) = a · b + a · c,

(a+b) · c = a · c+b · c.

The distributive law is the one law which involves

both addition and multiplication. It is

used in two basic ways: to multiply two factors

where one factor has more than one term and

to factor out a common factor when we add

or subtract a number of terms, all of which

contain a common factor.

• 0 is the additive identity, 1 is the multiplicative

identity.

a+0 = 0+a = a, a · 1 = 1 · a = a

• Additive Inverse: Every a ∈R has an additive

inverse, denoted by −a, such that a+(−a) = 0,

the additive identity

• Multiplicative Inverse: Every a
∈R except

for 0 has a multiplicative inverse, denoted by

a^{−1} or 1/a, such that a · a^{−1} = a^{−1} · a = 1, the

multiplicative inverse.

• Cancellation Law for Addition: If a+c = b+c,

then a = b. This follows from the existence of

an additive inverse (and the other laws), since

if a+c = b+c, then a+c+(−c) = b+c+(−c),

so a+0 = b+0 and hence a = b.

• Cancellation Law for Multiplication: If a · c =

b · c and c ≠ 0, then a = b. This follows from

the existence of an multiplicative inverse for c

(and the other laws), since if a · c = b · c, then

a · c · c^{−1} = b · c · c^{−1}, so a · 1 = b · 1 and hence

a = b.

From these rules, we can see why multiplication

by 0 gives 0: a·0+0 = a·0 = a· (0+0) =

a·0+a· 0. Thus a·0+0 = a·0+a·0 and from

the cancellation law it follows that 0 = a · 0.

We can now see why multiplication by −1 yields

the additive inverse of a number: a+(−1)·a =

1 · 1+(−1) · a = (1+(−1)) · a = 0 · a = 0.

We can also see why the product of a positive

number and a negative number must be negative,

and the product of two negative numbers

is positive. More generally, we can see that

(−a) · b = −a · b as follows: a · b + (−a) · b =

(a+(−a)) · b = 0· b = 0, so (−a) · b must be the

additive inverse of a · b, in other words, −a · b.

## Subtraction and Division

All the above rules concern addition and multiplication.

Those are the basic operations; subtraction

and division are really special cases of

addition and multiplication.

Definition 1 (Subtraction). a − b = a+(−b).

Definition 2 (Division). a ÷ b = a · b^{−1}.

Alternate Notations:

This explains why division by 0 is undefined: 0

does not have a multiplicative inverse.

We also get a Cancellation Law for division: If

b ≠ 0 and c ≠ 0, then

It’s important to use the Cancellation Law correctly;

one may only cancel a factor which is

common to both the numerator and the denominator .

Often, students incorrectly try to

cancel something that is a factor of a term

of the numerator or denominator, but not a

factor of the numerator or denominator itself.

## Terms and Factors

There is a technical difference between terms

and factors, and the word term is often misused

when one is actually referring to a factor.

Terms are added together.

Factors are multiplied together

x^3 + 5x^2 − 3x + 2 has four terms: x^3, 5x^2, 3x

and 2.

Technically, one might want to think of −3x

rather than 3x as the term, thinking of x^3 +

5x^2 − 3x+2 as x^3 +5x^2 +(−3x)+2, but the

common practice is to call 3x a term.

x^3 +5x^2 − 3x+2 consists of just one factor.

(x^2 + 5x − 3)(2x + 1) has just one term, but

two factors. The first factor, x^2 + 5x − 3 has

three terms and the second factor, 2x+1, has

two terms, but the entire expression, looked at

as a whole, has just one term.

## The Substitution Principle

A basic principle in algebra is sometimes called

substitution. The basic idea is that, in any

algebraic expression, anthing can be replaced

by anything else that is equal to it.

This is used extensively in solving equations,

but is also used a lot in just simplifying algebraic

(and trigonometric) expressions.

Absolute Value

**Definition 3 **(Absolute Value).

Properties of Absolute Value

## Exponents

Positive integer exponents : If n ∈Z^{+}, a^{n} =

a · a · a . . . a, where the product consists of n

identical factors, all equal to a.

Negative exponents:

Zero exponent:

Rational Exponents: If

stands for the n^{th} root of a, the number

which, when raised to the n^{th} power, yields a.

In other words,

## Rules for Exponents

## Rules for Radicals

Important: We cannot simplify sums of radicals.

## Order of Operations

Exponentiation

Multiplication and Division

Addition and Subtraction

If we want to change the order, we use parentheses.

## Scientific Notation

It’s sometimes convenient to write a very large

or a very small number as a number between

1 and 10 times a power of 10. This is called

scientific notation.

**Examples:**

Many calculators display E ± xx rather than

.
For example, instead of displaying 3.578·

10^{−5}, many calculators would show 3.578E−5.

We should still write the number down using

scientific notation, not the way the calculator

displays it.

## Polynomials

**Definition 4** (Polynomial). A polynomial is a

mathematical expression of the form

where

and x is a variable.

are constants and called coefficients .

a_{0} is called the constant term.

a_{n} is called the leading coefficient.

n is the degree of the polynomial.

The variable doesn ’t have to be x.

A polynomial of degree 1 is called linear.

A polynomial of degree 2 is called quadratic.

A polynomial of degree 3 is called cubic.

Polynomials can be added and subtracted in

the obvious way.

## Multiplication of Polynomials

Polynomials may be multiplied through the repeated

use of the Distributive Law, leading to

what’s sometimes called the Generalized Distributive

Law:

To multiply two polynomials together, one pairs

each term of the first factor with each term

of the second, multiplying each pair together,

and then adds all those individual products together.

**Example:**

The terms of the first factor are x^2, −5x and

3, while the terms of the second are 4x and

−7. One may wish to visualize the product as

(x^2 +(−5x)+3)(4x+(−7)).

The pairs of terms may be listed, in an organized

way, in either of the following two ways:

or

Using the first listing, one gets the following

products:

Adding the products together, one gets:

Combining like terms, one obtains the product:

## Caution:

Many students have learned the evil acronym

FOIL. FOIL is simply the special case of the

Generalized Distribution Law for the easiest

case of all, a binomial multiplied by a binomial.

It is no easier to use than the Generalized

Distributive Law and its use detracts from

the understanding of the much more important

Generalized Distributive Law. It is advised

that students completely forget about FOIL

and avoid it at all costs.

## Division of Polynomials

Division of polynomials may be done essentially

the same way long division of ordinary decimals

is performed. The most common type of division

is dividing a linear polynomial (something

in the form ax+b) into a higher degree polynomial.

Each trial quotient is obtained by dividing

the ax term into the term in the dividend

of highest degree.

When dividing a polynomial by a linear polynomial

x − c, if we get a remainder then that

remainder is actually the value of the polynomial

when x = c. We can see this if we write

Multiplying both sides by x − c yields

p(x) = q(x)(x − c)+r

Plugging in x = c yields

p(c) = q(c)(c − c)+r = q(c) · 0+r = r.

Example: If we try dividing x^3+3x−7 by x+5

(which may be thought of as x − (−5)), we

get x^2 − 5x + 28 with a remainder of −147,

meaning that

and
when x = −5.

Corollary. Given a polynomial p(x), x − c is a

factor if and only if p(c) = 0.

This comes in very handy when solving equations.

It is the basis of solving by factoring.

**Example:**

Solve x^2 +3x = 10.

x^2 +3x − 10 = 0

(x+5)(x − 2) = 0

Since x+5 and x−2 are factors, −5 and 2 are

solutions of the equation x^2+3x−10 = 0 and

thus of the equivalent original equation.

## Rationalizing

Suppose one has a fractional expression like

One can rationalize the numerator as

follows:

You may remember learning to rationalize a

denominator using this method; in practice, it

turns out that one rarely if ever needs to rationalize

a denominator, but one often needs to

rationalize a numerator.

Historical Note: Before the widespread use of

calculators, rationalizing a denominator was a

useful technique to make some calculations easier.

For example, if one needed a decimal approximation

to
,
one used to look up a decimal

approximation to
in a table, getting

1.4142 (if one was interested in four decimal

places).

Without rationalizing the denominator, one would

then have to calculate 1/1.4142 by hand, which

would be rather tedious. However, if one rationalizes

the denominator, one finds

so one could equivalently calculate

1.4142/2 by hand, a much easier calculation.

With the current availability of calculators, such

contortions are now anachronisms.

On the other hand, the skills learned in rationalizing

denominators turn out to be important

in rationalizing numerators. One example

of this is the following.

Suppose one wants to get the slope of the

line tangent to
at the point (1, 1).

One can’t find it directly, but one might expect

the slope of a line between (1, 1) and a

point
on the curve, close to the point

(1, 1), to be close to the slope of the tangent.

The slope of that line is
, and when x

is close to 1, one expects this to be close to

the slope of the tangent. Unfortunately, it’s

hard to directly estimate the value of

However, if one rationalizes the numerator, one

observes

The last expression is obviously close to 1/2

when x is close to 1, and we thus expect the slope

of the tangent line to be 1/2, as indeed it is.

## Rational Expressions

The key rules of algebra relating to rational

expressions are the following.

Cancellation Law:

(A common mistake is to think one is using

the Cancellation Law when it does not apply.)

Addition:

Subtraction:

(If one does not have the same denominator,

one finds a common denominator.)

**Example:**

If we cannot find a common denominator easily,

we can always use the product of the denominators.

If the product isn’t the least common

denominator, we may be able to reduce

the sum we get to lower terms, cancelling a

common factor of the numerator and denominator.

**Example:**

We can find the least common denominator by

factoring each denominator into a product of

powers of primes and then use each prime to

the highest power it appears.

In the preceding example, the two denominators

are 4 and 6. We may factor them as:

The prime factors that appear are 2 and 3.

Since the highest power 2 appears as is 2^{2} and

the highest power 3 appears as is 3 = 3^{1}, the

least common denominator is 2^{2} · 3. We may

then calculate

the same

sum we obtained before.

The same basic method may be used even if

the rational expressions involve variables.

Multiplication

Division:

Division is really multiplication by the multiplicative

inverse of the divisor.

## Simplifying Complex Rational Expressions

Sometimes one is confronted with rational expressions

where the numerator and/or the denominator

are themselves rational expressions.

There are two equally effective approaches to

dealing with these complex fractional expressions.

Method 1: Write the numerator and denominator

so that each is a single term, perhaps

with a numerator and denominator, and then

treat it as a quotient.

Method 2: Multiply the numerator and denominator

by the product of each factor in the denominator

of either the numerator or the denominator.

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