Numerator: Definition & Concept

Instructor: Jennifer Beddoe

Jennifer has an MS in Chemistry and a BS in Biological Sciences.

Numerator is the term used to describe the top part of a fraction. In this lesson, you will learn more about what the numerator represents and a bit about its history. Then, take a quiz to test your knowledge.

Definition of Numerator

A fraction is used to describe a portion of something, like 1/4 of a cake or 1/2 of a pie. Each number of the fraction has a name. The number above the line is the numerator, and the number below the line is the denominator.


The numerator represents a number of equal parts, and the denominator is how many of those equal parts make up a whole. In the cake example above, the numerator '1' shows that we are talking about one portion of cake. The denominator '4' means that the whole cake is made up of four equal portions.

History of the Numerator

'Numerator' is a Latin word that means 'number.' This is because it represents the number of parts. 'Denominator' is also Latin and means 'namer.' It is the portion of the fraction that names or defines the whole. These words were first used to describe fractions by 13th century mathematicians.

Types of Fractions

There are three different types of fractions, and they all have numerators.

  • Proper fractions: These fractions are written in the proper form - the numerator is smaller than the denominator, and they cannot be simplified any further.
  • Improper fractions: An improper fraction is one in which the numerator is greater than the denominator.
  • Mixed fraction: A mixed fraction is a whole number and proper fraction combined. It describes a situation in which you have at least one of something and also a part of another one. For example, 'the soccer team ate 3 1/2 pizzas at their party.'


Practical Applications

As mentioned before, the numerator describes how many portions you have of something. That 'something' can be anything that can be divided into equal parts. (You probably will never say, 'I have 1/2 a puppy'; however, having 1/2 of a candy bar is perfectly acceptable.)

Fractions are visually helpful ways to describe many things, such as ratios and percents. A statement such as, 'The ratio of girls to boys in ballet class is 3:1' is probably easier understood when said as a fraction, as in, 'The ballet class contains 3/4 girls.' This just means that if you divide the class into four equal groups, three of them will be girls and one will be made up of boys.

Instead of saying, 'That shirt is on sale for 33% off the original price,' it might be easier to say, 'That shirt is on sale for 1/3 off the original price.'


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