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Polynomial Functions

Adding Subtracting and Multiplying Polynomials

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Direct messages

The word polynomial is used to describe a specific type of expression. Although polynomials contain multiple terms, they behave similar to numbers and can be manipulated as such.



A polynomial is either a single monomial or a sum of them. Each of the monomials that form the polynomial are referred to as a term of the polynomial. This definition implies that, for an expression to be a polynomial, each of its terms must be a valid monomial.
In the above example, the latter expression is not a polynomial because the term is not a monomial. The variables in a monomial can only have whole numbers as exponents.

Classifying Polynomials by Their Number of Terms

One way that polynomials can be classified is according to the number of terms they have. The following table shows the names used for this classification.

Name Definition Example
Monomial A polynomial with a single term. 3x2y3
Binomial A polynomial with a exactly two terms. 5xy+3x2y3
Trinomial A polynomial with exactly three terms. x39x+4
When there are more than three terms, the name polynomial is commonly used.


Adding and Subtracting Polynomials

Given two polynomials, their sum or difference can be calculated. Consider the following pair of polynomials.
In order to add these polynomials, there are three steps to follow. Note that subtraction of the polynomials can be performed by applying the same three steps, only instead of adding the like terms, they will be subtracted.
Rearrange Terms
Generally speaking, polynomials are added by adding their like terms. Therefore, it can be helpful to rearrange the terms so that the like terms are next to each other.
When subtracting polynomials, remember to distribute -1 to the terms of the second polynomial before rearranging the terms.
Add and Subtract Like Terms
Next, the like terms can be combined. In other words, the monomials should be added or subtracted by adding or subtracting their coefficients.
Simplify the Result
Finally, the obtained result of addition can be simplified. For example, since the coefficient before x2-term is 0, this term is equal to 0 and can be omitted.
Therefore, the sum is 5x7. Note that the given polynomials are of degree 2. However, the new polynomial is of degree 1 because the x2-terms canceled each other out. If they had not canceled each other out, the new polynomial would have also been of degree 2.
When adding or subtracting two polynomials of degrees m and n, the degree of the resulting polynomial is at most the equal to the degree of higher degree polynomial.


Vertical Format of Addition and Subtraction
Previously, polynomials were added by using the horizontal format. The vertical format of polynomial addition or subtraction will now be presented. Note that for this method, the like terms should be aligned vertically.
By comparing the results, it can be concluded that no matter which format of addition is used, the sums are the same.


Subtract the polynomials

Calculate the difference between the polynomials.
Show Solution expand_more
Subtracting polynomials is done by combining like terms. When we calculate the difference, it is important to distribute the negative sign to all terms in the second polynomial.
Thus, the difference is 2x2+4x6.


Multiplying Polynomials

Polynomials are multiplied by using the Distributive Property. For example, for the polynomial product
it is possible to distribute (c+d+e) to every term of (a+b). Then, by using the Distributive Property once more, the product can be expressed explicitly.
When multiplying two polynomials, each term of the first polynomial multiplies with each term of the second one. This have some important consequences:
  • The product of a polynomial with n terms and a polynomial with m terms results in n×m products. For example, the product of two binomials gives 2×2=4 products as result.
  • Since each product of terms results in a new monomial, the result of a polynomial multiplication is a sum of monomials, which is, by definition, another polynomial. Therefore, polynomials are closed under multiplication.
  • When two polynomials are multiplied, the product is a new polynomial with a degree that is the sum of the degrees of the factor polynomials. This follows from the Product of Powers Property when multiplying the highest degree monomials of the factor polynomials.


Find the product of the polynomials x3+x2+5 and x4+2x+1 by distributing (x4+2x+1) to each term in x3+x2+5. Then, determine the degree of the resulting polynomial.
It can be seen that since both polynomials have 3 terms, multiplying them results in 3×3=9 products. Nevertheless, it can be simplified by combining like terms.
It can also be noted that the polynomial its of degree 3 and the polynomial its of degree 4. When written in standard form, their product is
This is a polynomial of degree 3+4=7.
In order to make the multiplication process systematic there are different methods that can be used, such as the FOIL Method and using tables of products. Ultimately, all of these methods are based on the Distributive Property. An example of a table of products is shown below.


Multiply the polynomials


Find a polynomial that represents the area of the rectangle.

Show Solution expand_more
The area of a rectangle is calculated using the relationship
Here, the length is represented by the binomial 2x+2 and the width by another binomial, 3x5. We find the polynomial representing the area by multiplying the length and the width.
Thus, the area can be represented by the polynomial
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