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Simplifying Expressions with Integral Exponents


In this section we learn some important Laws of Exponents.

Integral Exponents
Back in the chapter on Numbers, we came across examples of very large numbers.
(See Scientific Notation). One example was the mass of the Earth, which is about:
6 1024 kg
In this number, the 10 is raised to the power 24 (we could also say "the exponent of 10
is 24").
The number 10 is called the base and 24 is called the exponent (or power).
Now, the number 1024 means:
1024 = 10 10 10 10 10 ... 10
[We multiply 24 lots of 10.]
= 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
[That's 1 with 24 zeros]
Exponents give us a very convenient way of writing very large and very small numbers.
They are also very handy for making algebra easier because it is more compact. Let's
now give a general definition for any number (or any variable) raised to an "integral
exponent":
Definition: am means "multiply m lots of a together"
That is:
am = a a a a a ... a
[There are m lots of a in our multiplication.]
Note 1: "Integral exponent" means the exponent is a whole number [That is, aninteger]
Note 2: The above definition only really holds if m is a positive integer, since it doesn't
make a lot of sense if m is negative. (You can't multiply something by itself negative 3
times! And what does multiplying something by itself 0 times mean?). In such cases we
have to rely on patterns and conventions to define what is going on. See below for zero
and negative exponents.
Example 1: Integral Exponents
(1) y5 = y y y y y [There are 5 lots of y being multiplied together.]
(2) 24 = 2 2 2 2 = 16 [There are 4 lots of 2 being multiplied together.]
(3) 106 = 10 10 10 10 10 10 = 1,000,000
[There are 6 lots of 10 being multiplied together.]
Multiplying Expressions with the Same Base
Let's start with an example. Once you get the hang of this, it makes writing math a
whole lot easier.
Say we need to multiply 2 large numbers, 108 and 105. Now, if we write it out in full, we
would need to write:
108 = 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 (8 lots of 10 multiplied together)
105 = 10 10 10 10 10 (5 lots of 10 multiplied together)
So:
108 105 = (10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10) (10 10 10 10 10)
Now, if you count them all up, you will have 13 lots of 10 multiplied together.
So we can conclude that
108 105 = 1013
This is very tedious and there must be an easier way. We could add the exponents when
multiplying numbers with the same base. Let's see a general definition.
Definition: am an = am+n
Let's see how this works with an example involving a variable, b:
Example 2
b5 b3 = (b b b b b) (b b b)
= b8
Our final answer is equivalent to b5+3.
Dividing Expressions with the Same Base
When we divide expressions with the same base, we need to subtract the exponent of
the number we are dividing by from the exponent of the first number. In general, we
can write is as follows.

Definition: (Of course, a 0)


It may be easiest to see how this one works with an example.
Example 3
We cancel 2 of the b's from the numerator (the top) and the two b's from the
denominator (the bottom) of the fraction. The result is equivalent to b7 2.
We could also write this problem as
b7 b2 = b7 2 = b5
Repeated Multiplication of a Number Raised to a Power
Next we consider the case where we have a base raised to some exponent, then we
raise that to some other exponent.
For example, we may start with p3 and need to raise it to the power 2. How do we do
that? We'll see the answer in a minute. First, let's look at a general definition.
(am)n = (am) (am) (am) ... (am) [We multiply n times].
= amn
So we write:
Definition: (am)n = amn
Example 4
(p3)2 = p3 p3
= (p p p) (p p p)
= p6
A Product Raised to an Integral Power
In this section we have 2 numbers multiplied together, and we raise the result to some
power. In this case, it has the same value as raising the first number to the power and
multiplying by the second number raised to the power.
Definition: (ab)n = anbn
Example 5
(5q)3 = 53q3 = 125q3
We have raised the 5 to the power 3 (giving us 125) and we can't do anything else
with q3.
A Fraction Raised to an Integral Power
If we have a fraction raised to an integral power, we need to raise the top number to
the power and divide by the bottom number raised to the power.

Definition:
Example 6
In this example, I have written out in full the meaning of 2/3 raised to the power 4.
Example 7

Expand:
Answer: Raising the top and bottom numbers to the power of 5 gives:

Raising a Number to a Zero Exponent


Definition: a0 = 1 (a 0)
Example 8
70 = 1
Example 9
x0 = 1
Example 10
(5a)0 = 1

Note 1: a0 = 1 is a convention, that is, we agree that raising any number to the power 0
is 1. We cannot multiply a number by itself zero times.
Note 2: In the case of zero raised to the power 0 (written 00), mathematicians have been
debating this for hundreds of years. It is most commonly regarded as having value 1, but
is not so in all places where it occurs. That's why we write a 0.

Raising a Number to Negative Exponents

Definition: (Once again, a 0)


In this exponent rule, a cannot equal 0 because you cannot have 0 on the bottom of a
fraction.
Example 11
Example 12
a-1 = 1/a
Example 13
x-8 = 1/x8
Explanation: 0 and Negative Exponents
Observe the following decreasing pattern:
34 = 81
33 = 27
32 = 9
31 = 3
For each step, we are dividing by 3. Now, continuing beyond 31 and dividing by 3 each
times gives us:

Summary - Laws of Exponents


[Note: These laws also apply in the next section, Fractional Exponents.]

Let's try some mixed examples where we have integral exponents.


Example 14
(a) Simplify a5 a-3
Answer
(b) Simplify a3 a-5
Answer
Example 15
Simplify (23 2 -4)2
Answer
Example 16

Simplify
Answer
The importance of brackets
Note the following differences carefully:
(-5x)0 = 1, but -5x0 = -5.
In the first one, we are raising everything in brackets to the power 0, so the answer is 1.
In the second one, we are only raising the x to the power 0, then we are left with -5 1
= -5
Similarly:
(-5)0 = 1, but -50 = -1.
Example 17
Simplify (2a + b-1)-2
Answer
Exercises
Question (1) Simplify: (5an-2)-1
Answer

Question (2) Simplify:


Answer
Question (3) Simplify: (2a - b-2)-1
Answer