Like Terms in Math: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript

Jennie has eight years experience teaching high school math and has a Master's degree in Education Leadership.

In this lesson, you will learn how to distinguish between like and unlike terms as well as how to combine like terms in order to simplify an expression.

Definition of Like Terms

Terms are separated by addition or subtraction in an expression. Recall that a monomial is a single term, a binomial has two terms, a trinomial has three terms and a polynomial has many terms. So, if you were asked how many terms are present in the following expression: 2xy + 3x - 7y, your answer should be three. More specifically, you could say it is a trinomial.

So, you know what a term is, but what are like terms? Well, like terms are terms that can be combined. For example, x + 5x can be combined to equal 6x. However, when you look at the trinomial: 2xy + 3x - 7y, there are no like terms to combine.

Here are a few more examples of like and unlike terms:

Example Explanation
3x and -8x^2 Unlike terms - the exponents are different
-4y^3 and 5x^3 Unlike terms - the variables are different; the first term has a variable of y and the second term has a variable of x
abc and 22abc Like terms - both terms have the same variable group abc
-12xy and 3xy Like terms - same variable group xy
13 and 42 Like terms - they are both constants

Step away from Algebra for a moment and make some connections.

Fruity Fun

If we were to group the matching pieces of fruit together, how many of each type would we have?

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