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What is a Percent? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is a Percent
  • 0:36 What Does it Mean?
  • 1:58 Writing Percentages
  • 2:56 Uses
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Thinking in terms of pizza is an excellent way to think about percentages. Learn how it can help you understand percentages in this video lesson. You will also learn about the uses of percentages in the real world.

What Is a Percent?

Picture a big pizza with your favorite toppings on it. Now, I like pepperoni, so mine has lots of pepperoni slices. Now picture the pizza being sliced into fourths, then eights, then sixteenths. Yum! My stomach's rumbling - is yours? Picture holding a slice of pizza in your hand, and you're holding a percentage of the pizza. So, a percentage, or percent, is a part of a whole. The word has its roots in the Latin language, from the phrase 'per centum,' which literally means 'per hundred.'

What Does It Mean?

We can think of a hundred as a whole, or all of something. A hundred percent of a pizza is the whole pizza. Half a pizza would be 50 percent, or half of a hundred percent. The percentage tells you how much of the whole you have.

If we divided our pizza into 100 little slices, then each slice would represent 1 percent of the pizza. This is another way to visualize percentages. You can take a whole of something and divide it into 100 little pieces and then figure out how many little pieces are in the portion you are interested in. If I wanted a quarter of the pizza, I would see that it would require 25 little slices out of 100, or 25 percent of the pizza.

It is definitely possible to have a percentage that represents more than a whole or more than a hundred of something. What if you had a friend with a very good appetite, and he happened to eat 2 whole pizzas? Let's visualize this. If we divided each pizza into our little 100 slices, how many slices did he eat? Yes, he would have eaten 200 little slices. That sounds like a lot, but your friend has a big appetite, and he's won several eating contests because of it. Anyway, if he ate 200 little slices, then he would have eaten 200 percent of one pizza.

We know that a hundred percent is a whole of something. Percents less than a hundred mean that they are less than a whole. Percents more than a hundred mean that they include a whole of something plus more of the something.

Writing Percentages

There are three ways to write our percentages. We can use the mathematical percentage symbol, or we can write it in either decimal or fraction form. Let's take a look at how we can write 50 percent. Using the percentage symbol, it will look like 50%. The percentage symbol looks like two little zeroes with a slash separating them.

In decimal form, 50 percent is 0.50. In decimal form, 1 is the same as a 100%. In fraction form, 50 percent is 1/2. 1 in this form also means a 100%. If you divide 1 by 2, you will see that you get the decimal form of the fraction, 0.50.

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