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What is Polynomial?

A Polynomial is an expression consisting of variables (also called indeterminates)

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.

Polynomials appear in a wide variety of areas of mathematics and science. For

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.

A polynomial can have:

constants (like 3, −20, or ½)

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 ...

... except ...

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


A polynomial can have constants, variables and exponents,

but never division by a variable.

Polynomial or Not?

These are polynomials:

 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

And these are not polynomials

 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)

But these are allowed:

 x/2 is allowed, because you can divide by a constant

 also 3x/8 for the same reason
 √2 is allowed, because it is a constant (= 1.4142...etc)

Monomial, Binomial, Trinomial

There are special names for polynomials with 1, 2 or 3 terms:

How do you remember the names? Think cycles!

There is also quadrinomial (4 terms) and quintinomial (5 terms),

but those names are not often used.

Can Have Lots and Lots of Terms

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


Polynomials can have no variable at all

Example: 21 is a polynomial. It has just one term, which is a constant.

Or one variable

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

Or two or more variables

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

What is Special About Polynomials?

Because of the strict definition, polynomials are easy to work with.

For example we know that:

 If you add polynomials you get a polynomial

 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

See how nice and

smooth the curve is?

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


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


The Degree is 3 (the largest exponent of x)

For more complicated cases, read Degree (of an Expression) .

Standard Form

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

Example: Put this in Standard Form: 3x2 − 7 + 4x3 + x6

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

x6 + 4x3 + 3x2 − 7

You don't have to use Standard Form, but it helps.

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:


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

 Simplify (2x + 5y) + (3x – 2y)

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 + 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

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

You can do the same thing with polynomials. Here's how the above
simplification exercise looks, when it is done "vertically"

 Simplify (2x + 5y) + (3x – 2y)

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:


I get the same solution vertically as I got horizontally.

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

One advantage of vertical polynomial addition over vertical numerical

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

 Simplify (3x3 + 3x2 – 4x + 5) + (x3 – 2x2 + x – 4)

I can add horizontally:

(3x3 + 3x2 – 4x + 5) + (x3 – 2x2 + x – 4)

3x3 + 3x2 – 4x + 5 + x3 – 2x2 + x – 4

3x3 + x3 + 3x2 – 2x2 – 4x + x + 5 – 4

4x3 + 1x2 – 3x + 1

...or vertically:


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.

 Simplify (7x2 – x – 4) + (x2 – 2x – 3) + (–2x2 + 3x + 5)

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.

First, I'll do the adding horizontally:

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

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

7x2 + 1x2 – 2x2 – 1x – 2x + 3x – 4 – 3 + 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.

Now, I'll do the adding vertically:


Either way, I get the same answer. For my hand-in answer, I won't include the
"+0x" term.

6x2 – 2
Subtracting Polynomial

Subtracting polynomials is quite similar to adding polynomials, but there are

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.

 Simplify (x3 + 3x2 + 5x – 4) – (3x3 – 8x2 – 5x + 6)

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.

Here's what the subtraction looks like, when working horizontally:

(x3 + 3x2 + 5x – 4) – (3x3 – 8x2 – 5x + 6)

(x3 + 3x2 + 5x – 4) – 1(3x3 – 8x2 – 5x + 6)

(x3 + 3x2 + 5x – 4) – 1(3x3) – 1 (–8x2) – 1(–5x) – 1(6)

x3 + 3x2 + 5x – 4 – 3x3 + 8x2 + 5x – 6

x3 – 3x3 + 3x2 + 8x2 + 5x + 5x – 4 – 6

–2x3 + 11x2 + 10x –10

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


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:


Either way, I get the answer:

–2x3 + 11x2 + 10x – 10

 Simplify (6x3 – 2x2 + 8x) – (4x3 – 11x + 10)
Here's the subtraction, done horizontally:

(6x3 – 2x2 + 8x) – (4x3 – 11x + 10)

(6x3 – 2x2 + 8x) – 1(4x3 – 11x + 10)

(6x3 – 2x2 + 8x) – 1(4x3) – 1(–11x) – 1(10)

6x3 – 2x2 + 8x – 4x3 + 11x – 10

6x3 – 4x3 – 2x2 + 8x + 11x – 10

2x3 – 2x2 + 19x – 10

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


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


Either way, I get the same answer:

2x3 – 2x2 + 19x – 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.

 Simplify: (3x2 – 5x – 1) – (x3 + 2x2 + 4) + (9x3 + 5x2 – 3x – 2)

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


Then my hand-in answer is:

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.

The simplest multiplication involving polynomials is where we're taking a number

through a set of parentheses.

 Simplify the following: –5  (2x2)

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

–5  (2x2)


 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.)

Moving up in complexity, we can multiply two single-term polynomials (called

 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:






I can't simplify any further, so I'm done. My answer is:


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

The next step up in complexity is multiplying a monomial (rather than a plain

number) through a multi-term polynomial.

 Simplify –3x(4x2 – x + 10)

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

–3x(4x2 – x + 10)

–3x(4x2) + (–3x)(–x) + (–3x)(+10)

(–12)(x1+2) + (3)(x1+1) + (–30)(x)

–12x3 + 3x2 – 30x

The next step up in complexity is the multiplication of one two-term polynomial

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)

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

x2 + 3x + 2x + 6

x2 + 5x + 6

This horizontal multiplication, while mathematically valid, is probably the most

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.

For instance, you would probably not want to try to

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:

Draw a horizontal line below the two new rows:

Carry the x2 down to the bottom:

Add the +2x and the +3x, bringing down a +5x:

Carry the +6 down to the bottom:

The completed vertical multiplication:

I get the same answer as before, when I multiplied horizontally:

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.


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

...or else I can factor out the common factor from the top and bottom, and
then cancel off this common factor:

Either way, my answer is the same:

Note: Some students try to "cancel" before factorization. This cannot work!
Fractions have "understood" parentheses around their numerators or

It is necessary to include these explicitly when typing fractions out sideways,

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.

Students may try to do this:

This is wrong! Don't do this!

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:

This is the way to go.


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:

Either way, my answer is the same:

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

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.


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
Either way, my simplified answer is the same: