Fractions

This page covers Fractions - adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.

½ means 1 divided by 2. If you try this on a calculator, you will get an answer of 0.5 . 3/6 means 3 divided by 6. Using a calculator, you will find that this too gives an answer of 0.5 . That is because 1/2 = 3/6 = 0.5 . Fractions such as 3/6 can be cancelled. You can divide the top and bottom of the fraction by 3 to get 1/2 .

With fractions, you are allowed to multiply or divide the top and bottom of the fraction by some number, as long as you multiply (or divide) everything on the top and everything on the bottom by that number.
So 5/12 = 10/24 (multiplying top and bottom by 2).

Division by Zero

At this point, it is worth mentioning that you are not allowed to divide by zero. Division by zero is undefined. Some people think you can divide by zero and get infinity- you can't. Division by zero is simply not allowed.

Adding and Subtracting Fractions

To add two fractions, the bottom (denominator) of the two fractions must be the same. 1/2 + 3/2 = 4/2 ; 1/10 + 3/10 + 5/10 = 9/10 . If the denominators are not the same, multiply the top and bottom of one (or more) of the fractions by a number to make the denominators the same.

Example

5 + 2 = 5 + 4 = 9 = 3
6   3   6   6   6   2

The same is true when subtracting fractions.

This video shows you how to add and subtract fractions with a common denominator

This video shows you how to add and subtract fractions with a different denominator

Multiplying Fractions

This is simple: just multiply the two numerators (top bits) together, and the two denominators together:

2 × 5 = 10 =  5 
3   8   24   12

This video shows you how to multiply fractions

Dividing Fractions

If A, B, C and D are any numbers,

A  divided by  C = A  multiplied by  D
B   D   B   C

So:

1 ÷ 2 = 1 × 3 = 3
2   3   2   2   4

Harder examples

These rules work even when the fractions involve algebra.

2x ÷ x = 2x × 3 = 6x = 6 (the x's cancel)
5   3   5   x   5x   5

A note on cancelling

Fractions, of course, can often be 'cancelled down' to make them simpler. For example, 4/6 = 2/3. You can divide or multiply the top and bottom of any fraction by any number, as long as you do it to both the top and bottom. However, when there is more than one term on the top and/or bottom, to cancel you must divide every term in the top and bottom by that number.

Examples

2 + x
   2

In this example, some people might try to cancel the 2s, but you cannot do this. You would have to divide the x by 2 also, to get 1 + ½x .

2(x + 4)   =   (x + 4)
     4                  2

Here there is only one term in the numerator (top) and denominator (bottom) of the fraction, so you can divide top and bottom by 2.

Example

Simplify the expression  2x² - 5x + 2
                                       x² - 4

In questions such as this, it is often useful to factorise.
(2x - 1)(x - 2)
(x + 2)(x - 2)

Factorising means that there is now only one term in the numerator and denominator, whereas before there were two. We can now divide top and bottom by (x - 2):
(2x - 1)

This video shows you how to divide fractions

Converting Fractions to Decimals

Equivalent Fractions

Mixed Numbers and Improper Fractions