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Properties of Rational Numbers

Rational numbers are real numbers that can be written in the form of a fraction. Use these exercises to determine properties of rational numbers.

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Properties of Rational Numbers

Properties of Rational Numbers 

Lunch Bag

One day, Jason leaves his house and starts walking to school. After three blocks, he stops to tie his shoe and leaves his lunch bag sitting on the path. Two blocks farther on, he realizes his lunch is missing and goes back to get it. After picking up his lunch, he walks six more blocks to arrive at school. How far is the school from Jason’s house? And how far did Jason actually walk to get there?

Graph and Compare Integers

Integers are the counting numbers (1, 2, 3...), the negative opposites of the counting numbers (-1, -2, -3...), and zero. There are an infinite number of integers and examples are 0, 3, 76, -2, -11, and 995.

Comparing Numbers 

Compare the numbers 2 and -5.

When we plot numbers on a number line, the greatest number is farthest to the right, and the least is farthest to the left.

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

In the diagram above, we can see that 2 is farther to the right on the number line than -5, so we say that 2 is greater than -5. We use the symbol “>” to mean “greater than”, so we can write 2 > -5.

Classifying Rational Numbers

When we divide an integer \begin{align*}a\end{align*} by another integer \begin{align*}b\end{align*} (as long as \begin{align*}b\end{align*} is not zero) we get a rational number. It’s called this because it is the ratio of one number to another, and we can write it in fraction form as \begin{align*}\tfrac{a}{b}\end{align*}. (You may recall that the top number in a fraction is called the numerator and the bottom number is called the denominator.)

You can think of a rational number as a fraction of a cake. If you cut the cake into \begin{align*}b\end{align*} slices, your share is \begin{align*}a\end{align*} of those slices.

For example, when we see the rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{1}{2}\end{align*}, we can imagine cutting the cake into two parts. Our share is one of those parts. Visually, the rational number \begin{align*}\frac{1}{2}\end{align*} looks like this:

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With the rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{3}{4}\end{align*}, we cut the cake into four parts and our share is three of those parts. Visually, the rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{3}{4}\end{align*} looks like this:

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The rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{9}{10}\end{align*} represents nine slices of a cake that has been cut into ten pieces. Visually, the rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{9}{10}\end{align*} looks like this:

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Proper fractions are rational numbers where the numerator is less than the denominator. A proper fraction represents a number less than one.

Improper fractions are rational numbers where the numerator is greater than or equal to the denominator. An improper fraction can be rewritten as a mixed number – an integer plus a proper fraction. For example, \begin{align*}\tfrac{9}{4}\end{align*} can be written as \begin{align*}2\tfrac{1}{4}\end{align*}. An improper fraction represents a number greater than or equal to one.

Equivalent fractions are two fractions that represent the same amount. For example, look at a visual representation of the rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{2}{4}\end{align*}, and one of the number \begin{align*}\tfrac{1}{2}\end{align*}.

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You can see that the shaded regions are the same size, so the two fractions are equivalent. We can convert one fraction into the other by reducing the fraction, or writing it in lowest terms. To do this, we write out the prime factors of both the numerator and the denominator and cancel matching factors that appear in both the numerator and denominator.

\begin{align*}\frac{2}{4} = \frac{2 \cdot 1}{2 \cdot 2 \cdot 1} = \frac{1}{2 \cdot 1} = \frac{1}{2}\end{align*}

Reducing a fraction doesn’t change the value of the fraction—it just simplifies the way we write it. Once we’ve canceled all common factors, the fraction is in its simplest form.

Classifying and Simplifying Numbers

Classify and simplify the following rational numbers

a) \begin{align*}\frac{3}{7}\end{align*}

3 and 7 are both prime, so we can't factor them. That means \begin{align*}\frac{3}{7}\end{align*} is already in its simplest form. It is also a proper fraction.

b) \begin{align*}\frac{9}{3}\end{align*}

 \begin{align*}\frac{9}{3}\end{align*} is an improper fraction because \begin{align*}9 > 3\end{align*}. To simplify it, we factor the numerator and denominator and cancel: \begin{align*}\frac{3 \cdot 3}{3 \cdot 1} = \frac{3}{1} = 3\end{align*}.

Order Rational Numbers

Ordering rational numbers is simply a matter of arranging them by increasing value—least first and greatest last.

Ordering Fractions 

1. Put the following fractions in order from least to greatest: \begin{align*}\frac{1}{2}, \frac{3}{4}, \frac{2}{3}\end{align*}

\begin{align*}\frac{1}{2} < \frac{2}{3} < \frac{3}{4}\end{align*}

Simple fractions are easy to order—we just know, for example, that one-half is greater than one quarter, and that two thirds is bigger than one-half. But how do we compare more complex fractions?

2. Which is greater, \begin{align*}\tfrac{3}{7}\end{align*} or \begin{align*}\tfrac{4}{9}\end{align*}?

In order to determine this, we need to rewrite the fractions so we can compare them more easily. If we rewrite each as an equivalent fraction so that both have the same denominators, then we can compare them directly. To do this, we need to find the lowest common denominator (LCD), or the least common multiple of the two denominators.

The lowest common multiple of 7 and 9 is 63. Our fraction will be represented by a shape divided into 63 sections. This time we will use a rectangle cut into 9 by \begin{align*}7 = 63\end{align*} pieces.

7 divides into 63 nine times, so \begin{align*}\frac{3}{7} = \frac{9 \cdot 3}{9 \cdot 7} = \frac{27}{63}\end{align*}.

We can multiply the numerator and the denominator both by 9 because that’s really just the opposite of reducing the fraction. To get back from \begin{align*}\tfrac{a}{b}\end{align*} to \begin{align*}\tfrac{3}{7}\end{align*}, we’d just cancel out the 9’s. Or, to put that in more formal terms:

The fractions \begin{align*}\tfrac{a}{b}\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\tfrac{c \cdot a}{c \cdot b}\end{align*} are equivalent as long as \begin{align*}c \neq 0\end{align*}.

Therefore, \begin{align*}\tfrac{27}{63}\end{align*} is an equivalent fraction to \begin{align*}\tfrac{3}{7}\end{align*}. Here it is shown visually:

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

9 divides into 63 seven times, so \begin{align*}\frac{4}{9} = \frac{7 \cdot 4}{7 \cdot 9} = \frac{28}{63}\end{align*}.

\begin{align*}\tfrac{28}{63}\end{align*} is an equivalent fraction to \begin{align*}\tfrac{4}{9}\end{align*}. Here it is shown visually:

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

By writing the fractions with a common denominator of 63, we can easily compare them. If we take the 28 shaded boxes out of 63 (from our image of \begin{align*}\tfrac{4}{9}\end{align*} above) and arrange them in rows instead of columns, we can see that they take up more space than the 27 boxes from our image of \begin{align*}\tfrac{3}{7}\end{align*}:

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Since \begin{align*}\tfrac{28}{63}\end{align*} is greater than \begin{align*}\tfrac{27}{63}\end{align*}, \begin{align*}\tfrac{4}{9}\end{align*} is greater than \begin{align*}\tfrac{3}{7}\end{align*}.

Graph and Order Rational Numbers

To plot non-integer rational numbers (fractions) on the number line, we can convert them to mixed numbers (graphing is one of the few occasions in algebra when it’s better to use mixed numbers than improper fractions), or we can convert them to decimal form.

Plotting Numbers on a Number Line 

Plot the following rational numbers on the number line.

a) \begin{align*}\frac{2}{3}\end{align*}

If we divide the number line into sub-intervals based on the denominator of the fraction, we can look at the fraction’s numerator to determine how many of these sub-intervals we need to include.
\begin{align*}\frac{2}{3}\end{align*} falls between 0 and 1. Because the denominator is 3, we divide the interval between 0 and 1 into three smaller units. Because the numerator is 2, we count two units over from 0.

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

b) \begin{align*}\text{-}\frac{3}{7}\end{align*}

 \begin{align*}-\frac{3}{7}\end{align*} falls between 0 and -1. We divide the interval into seven units, and move left from zero by three of those units.

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Example 1

Classify and simplify the rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{50}{60}\end{align*}.

\begin{align*}\tfrac{50}{60}\end{align*} is a proper fraction, and we can simplify it as follows: \begin{align*}\frac{50}{60} = \frac{5 \cdot 5 \cdot 2}{5 \cdot 3 \cdot 2 \cdot 2} = \frac{5}{3 \cdot 2} = \frac{5}{6}\end{align*}

Example 2

Plot the rational number \begin{align*}\tfrac{17}{5}\end{align*} on the number line.

\begin{align*}\tfrac{17}{5}\end{align*} as a mixed number is \begin{align*}3\tfrac{2}{5}\end{align*} and falls between 3 and 4. We divide the interval into five units, and move over two units.

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Another way to graph this fraction would be as a decimal. \begin{align*}3\tfrac{2}{5}\end{align*} is equal to 3.4, so instead of dividing the interval between 3 and 4 into 5 units, we could divide it into 10 units (each representing a distance of 0.1) and then count over 4 units. We would end up at the same place on the number line either way.


  1. Order the numbers \begin{align*}2, \text{-}\tfrac{5}{2}, \tfrac{5}{2}\end{align*} from least to greatest.

  2. The tick-marks on the number line represent evenly spaced integers. Find the values of \begin{align*}a, b, c, d, \text{ and }e:\end{align*}   

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In 3-5, determine what fraction of the whole each shaded region represents.

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For 6-10, place the following sets of rational numbers in order, from least to greatest.

  1. \begin{align*}\frac{1}{2}, \frac{1}{3}, \frac{1}{4}\end{align*}
  2. \begin{align*}\ \\ \frac{1}{10}, \frac{1}{2}, \frac{2}{5}, \frac{1}{4}, \frac{7}{20}\\ \ \\\end{align*}
  3. \begin{align*}\frac{39}{60}, \frac{49}{80}, \frac{59}{100}\end{align*}
  4. \begin{align*}\ \\ \frac{7}{11}, \frac{8}{13}, \frac{12}{19}\\ \ \\\end{align*}
  5. \begin{align*}\frac{9}{5}, \frac{22}{15}, \frac{4}{3}\end{align*}

For 11-15, find the simplest form of the following rational numbers.

  1. \begin{align*}\frac{22}{44}\end{align*}
  2. \begin{align*}\ \\ \frac{9}{27}\\ \ \\\end{align*}
  3. \begin{align*}\frac{12}{18}\end{align*}
  4. \begin{align*}\ \\ \frac{315}{420}\\ \ \\\end{align*}
  5. \begin{align*}\frac{244}{168}\end{align*}

Review (Answers)

To view the Review answers, open this PDF file and look for section 2.1. 

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common denominator The common denominator is the least common multiple of the denominators of multiple fractions. Each fraction can be rewritten as an equivalent fraction using the common denominator.
Denominator The denominator of a fraction (rational number) is the number on the bottom and indicates the total number of equal parts in the whole or the group. \frac{5}{8} has denominator 8.
Equivalent Fractions Equivalent fractions are fractions that can each be simplified to the same fraction. An equivalent fraction is created by multiplying both the numerator and denominator of the original fraction by the same number.
Irrational Number An irrational number is a number that can not be expressed exactly as the quotient of two integers.
Least Common Denominator The least common denominator or lowest common denominator of two fractions is the smallest number that is a multiple of both of the original denominators.
Least Common Multiple The least common multiple of two numbers is the smallest number that is a multiple of both of the original numbers.
Lowest Common Denominator The lowest common denominator of multiple fractions is the least common multiple of all of the related denominators.
Mixed Number A mixed number is a number made up of a whole number and a fraction, such as 4\frac{3}{5}.
Numerator The numerator is the number above the fraction bar in a fraction.
proper fraction A proper fraction has a numerator that is a lesser absolute value than the denominator. Proper fractions always represent values between -1 and 1.
rational number A rational number is a number that can be expressed as the quotient of two integers, with the denominator not equal to zero.
reduce To reduce a fraction means to rewrite the fraction so that it has no common factors between numerator and denominator.

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