Course Navigator
Back To Course
High School Algebra II: Help and Review26 chapters | 293 lessons
The distributive property involves the operations of multiplication and addition or multiplication and subtraction. When we use the distributive property, we are multiplying each term inside the parentheses with the term outside of the parentheses. The distributive property, which is displayed here, holds true for all real numbers a, b and c. Also notice that, if you view the formula in the opposite direction, we are just taking out the common factor of a.
Let's start with a simple application in arithmetic: 5(3 + 5). Using the distributive property, we can work through the problem like this: 5(3) + 5(5) = 15 + 25 = 40.
Of course, we would normally add 3 and 5 first and then multiply 5 by 8 to get the same answer. But this basic example allows us to demonstrate the distributive property before we get into more complex problems.
The distributive property can also help when you need to calculate equations using mental math, making some numbers easier to work with. Let's say that you purchased three sandwiches at a local eatery for $5.85 each, including tax; however, you are not sure if you have enough money to pay the check. You can think of $5.85 as $6 - $.15. Then think of the problem like this: 3(5.85) = 3(6 - .15) = 3(6) - 3(.15) = 18 - .45 = 17.55.
We can also use the distributive property with variables. Let's simplify the following equation: 7(2x + 7) - 11x.
We also use the distributive property when we multiply two binomials. When we multiply two binomials, we are actually using the distributive property twice. This is commonly referred to as foiling, especially when multiplying the factors of a quadratic equation, as in this example: (2x + 3)(x - 5).
Be careful when you have a negative sign as part of an expression. For instance, the expression -(x - 4) really means that we are distributing a -1 to both the x and the 4, like this: -1(x) - (-1)(4) = -x + 4.
Make sure that you distribute the negative sign to each term within the parentheses as shown here:
Let's simplify this example: 5(4x - 7) - 4(-3x + 8).
When you take a course in geometry, don't think that you can forget about algebra for a while - the two mathematical topics are very much linked. Algebra is a very important tool when solving geometric problems. Let's consider the following problem: 'The length of a rectangle is 5 more than its width. The total area of the rectangle is 84 square units. What is the width and length of the rectangle?'
Let's call the width x. That means that the length is x + 5.
We know that the area of a rectangle is width multiplied by length, so we can write the following equation and solve for x:
The possible solutions for x are -12 and 7. We know that the side of a rectangle cannot be negative, so x must equal 7. The width is x = 7 and the length is 7 + 5 = 12.
The distributive property can be extended for additional terms. For instance a(x + y + z) = ax + ay + az.
We can also use the converse of the distributive property, which is factoring. If we wanted to factor x^2 - 37x, we would get x(x - 37).
The distributive property allows us to multiply one factor with many different factors that are being added and/or subtracted together. The property often makes problems solvable mentally or at least easier to solve.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Did you know… We have over 49 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.