What is a Zero Pair in Math? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Emily Hume

Emily is a Reading Specialist and Literacy coach in a public elementary school with a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

Math has a lot of neat tricks that can make solving equations easier. In this lesson, you will learn what a zero pair is, how to identify one, and how a zero pair can help you solve an equation.

Equal Effort = No Movement!

You and a friend decide to have a tug-of-war on a hot summer day! Together you dig a hole, fill it with water, and tie a ribbon to the center of a long rope. You and your friend are the same size and strength, so this should be a pretty interesting competition! Well, as much as I was rooting for you to win, you did not! But, neither did your friend!

Since you are equally as strong as each other, you and your friend canceled each other out. This means that the ribbon, which started over the center of the hole, stayed there when you and your friend started pulling, because you are pulling equally in opposite directions.

Tug-of-War and a Number Line

What does a game of tug-of-war have to do with math? Let's find out! Look at a number line: zero in the middle, with positive numbers to the right and negative numbers to the left. When you move to the left, you are subtracting, or decreasing. When you move to the right, you are adding, or increasing. It's a lot like a rope in a tug-of-war, where the '0' is the ribbon in the center!

Check out the image: Number Line!

Number Line
Number Line

Zero Pairs

A zero pair is a pair of numbers that, when added together, equal zero. In other words, they cancel each other out. Here's why: Remember the tug-of-war example? Imagine your place on the rope is to the right of the zero, at the '1' position. Your friend is standing to the left of the zero, at the '-1' position. Where is the ribbon? It's at the 0! So, this means that '1' and '-1' are a zero pair - when added together, they equal zero and the positive cancels out the negative.

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