There are three basic properties of numbers, and your textbook will probably have just a little section that covers these properties, somewhere near the beginning of the book.
After you finish that section, you'll probably never see these properties again — until, maybe, the beginning of the next math course.
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Number properties are descriptions of things that numbers do; they are names for how numbers behave.
Many things have properties. For instance, matter (any physical object) has the property of density, because an object has a certain amount of material (mass) that occupies a certain amount of volume. Dividing the mass by the volume tells you how dense the object is. All physical objects fill a certain volume with a certain amount of stuff, so the property of density is just a description of one thing that all matter does.
The basic number properties are as follows:
(My impression is that covering these properties at this stage in your studies is a holdover from the "New Math" fad of the mid-1900s. While these number properties will start to become relevant in matrix algebra and calculus — and become amazingly important in advanced math, a couple years after calculus — they may seem fairly useless to you right now.)
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These number properties may seem obvious (so the "study" of them seems pointless) because every math system you've *ever* worked with has obeyed these properties. You have, for instance, never dealt with a system where a×b did not in fact equal b×a, or where (a×b)×c did not equal a×(b×c).
You have always been able to move terms around (as long as you kept track of their signs) and you have always been able to regroup terms. Which is why the associative and commutative properties probably seem painfully obvious to you, and thus hardly worth the time or effort.
Don't worry about their "relevance" for now; just make sure you can keep the properties straight so you can pass the next test. The lesson below explains how I keep track of the properties.
Affiliate
The word "associative" comes from "to associate" or "to group". The Associative Property is the rule that refers to grouping; the regrouping can be of added terms, or of multiplied factors. For addition, the rule is:
a + (b + c) = (a + b) + c
In numbers, this means that:
2 + (3 + 4) = (2 + 3) + 4
For multiplication, the rule is:
a(bc) = (ab)c
In numbers, this means that:
2(3×4) = (2×3)4
Any time they refer to the Associative Property, they want you to re-associate, or regroup, things; any time a computation depends on things being regrouped, they want you to say that the computation uses the Associative Property.
They want me to regroup things, not simplify things. In other words, they do not want me to say "6x". They want to see me do the following regrouping:
(2×3)x
In this case, they do want me to simplify, but I have to say why it's okay to do... just exactly what I've always done. Here's how this works:
2(3x) : original (given) statement
(2×3) x : by the Associative Property
6x : simplification of 2×3
Since all they did was regroup things, this is true by the Associative Property.
Affiliate
The word "commutative" comes from "commute" or "move around", so the Commutative Property is the one that refers to moving stuff around. For addition, the rule is:
a + b = b + a
In numbers, this means that:
2 + 3 = 3 + 2
For multiplication, the rule is:
ab = ba
In numbers, this means that:
2×3 = 3×2
Any time they refer to the Commutative Property, they want you to commute, or move, stuff around; any time a computation depends on moving stuff around, they want you to say that the computation uses the Commutative Property.
They want me to move stuff around, not simplify. In other words, my answer should not be "12x"; the answer instead can be any two of the following:
4 × 3 × x
4 × x × 3
3 × x × 4
x × 3 × 4
x × 4 × 3
Since all they did was move stuff around (they didn't regroup), this statement is true by the Commutative Property.
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The Distributive Property is easy to remember, if you keep in mind the mantra "multiplication distributes over addition". Formally, they write this property as:
a(b + c) = ab + ac
In numbers, this means, for example, that:
2(3 + 4) = 2×3 + 2×4
Any time they refer in a problem to using the Distributive Property, they want you to take something through the parentheses (or else to factor something out); any time a computation depends on multiplying through a parentheses (or factoring something out), they want you to say that the computation used the Distributive Property.
Unlike the Associative and Commutative Properties, there are not two versions (one for addition and another for multiplication) of the Distributive Property. Instead, both multiplication and addition occur within the one rule.
Since they distributed through the parentheses, this is true by the Distributive Property.
The Distributive Property either takes something through a parentheses or else factors something out. Since there aren't any parentheses to go into, you must need to factor out of. Then the answer is:
By the Distributive Property, 4x − 8 = 4(x − 2).
"But wait!" I hear you cry; "the Distributive Property says multiplication distributes over addition, not over subtraction! What gives?" You make a good point. This is one of those times when it's best to be flexible. You can either view the contents of the parentheses as the subtraction of a positive number ("x − 2") or else as the addition of a negative number ("x + (−2)"). In the latter case, it's easy to see that the Distributive Property applies, because you're still adding; you're just adding a negative.
Once you've learned these properties, you will be asked to demonstrate your knowledge.
I'm going to do the exact same algebra I've always done, but now I have to give the name of the property that says its okay for me to take each step. The answer looks like this:
3a − 5b + 7a : original (given) statement
3a + 7a − 5b : Commutative Property
(3a + 7a) − 5b : Associative Property
a(3+7) − 5b : Distributive Property
a(10) − 5b : simplification (3 + 7 = 10)
10a − 5b : Commutative Property
The only fiddly part was moving the "− 5b" from the middle of the expression (in the first line of my working above) to the end of the expression (in the second line). If you need help keeping your negatives straight, convert the "− 5b" to "+ (−5b)". Just don't lose that minus sign!
I'll do the exact same steps I've always done. The only difference now is that I'll be writing down the reasons for each step.
23 + 5x + 7y − x − y − 27 : original (given) statement
23 − 27 + 5x − x + 7y − y : Commutative Property
(23 − 27) + (5x − x) + (7y − y) : Associative Property
(−4) + (5x − x) + (7y − y) : simplification (23 − 27 = −4)
(−4) + x(5 − 1) + y(7 − 1) : Distributive Property
−4 + x(4) + y(6) : simplification (5 − 1 = 4, 7 − 1 = 6)
−4 + 4x + 6y : Commutative Property
3(x + 2) − 4x : original (given) statement
3x + 3×2 − 4x : Distributive Property
3x + 6 − 4x : simplification (3×2 = 6)
3x − 4x + 6 : Commutative Property
(3x − 4x) + 6 : Associative Property
x(3 − 4) + 6 : Distributive Property
x(−1) + 6 : simplification (3 − 4 = −1)
−x + 6 : Commutative Property
All they did was move stuff around.
Commutative Property
All they did was regroup.
Associative Property
They factored something out.
Distributive Property
URL: https://www.purplemath.com/modules/numbprop.htm
You can use the Mathway widget below to practice using the Distributive Property. Try the entered exercise, or type in your own exercise. Then click the button and select "Simplify" or "Multiply" to compare your answer to Mathway's. (You can also enter a multiplied-out expression, and select "Factor", to test your answers when using the Distributive Property to pull a factor out.)
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