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1.6: Patterns and Expressions

Difficulty Level: Basic Created by: CK-12
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Jeremy read that degrees Celsius converted to degrees Fahrenheit is "the sum of 32 and \frac{9}{5} times the temperature in degrees Celsius." However, he's not sure how to convert this into an algebraic expression. What do you think an equivalent algebraic expression would be? This Concept will teach you how to translate such an English phrase into algebra so that you can help Jeremy out.


In mathematics, especially in algebra, we look for patterns in the numbers that we see. Using mathematical verbs and variables, expressions can be written to describe a pattern. An algebraic expression is a mathematical phrase combining numbers and/or variables using mathematical operations. We can describe patterns using phrases as well, and we want to be able to translate these phrases into algebraic expressions.

Consider a theme park charging an admission of $28 per person. A rule can be written to describe the relationship between the amount of money taken at the ticket booth and the number of people entering the park. In words, the relationship can be stated as “ The money taken in dollars is (equals) twenty-eight times the number of people who enter the park.

The English phrase above can be translated (written in another language) into an algebraic expression. Using mathematical verbs and nouns learned from previous lessons, any phrase can be written as an algebraic expression.

Example A

Write an algebraic expression for the following phrase.

The product of c and 4.


The verb is product , meaning “to multiply.” Therefore, the phrase is asking for the answer found by multiplying c and 4. The nouns are the number 4 and the variable c . The expression becomes 4 \times c, \ 4(c) , or using shorthand, 4c .

Example B

Write an expression to describe the amount of revenue of the theme park described above.


An appropriate variable to describe the number of people could be p . Rewriting the English phrase into a mathematical phrase, it becomes 28 \times p .

Some phrases are harder to translate than others.

Example C

Translate the phrase "5 less than 2 times a number."


The word less lets you know that you are going to take away, or subtract, a number. Many students will want to turn this expression into 5-2n . But this is not what our phrase is telling us. Whatever the value of "2 times a number "or 2n , we want to write an expression that shows we have 5 less than that. That means that we need to subtract 5 from 2n . The correct answer is  2n-5 .


Algebraic expression: An algebraic expression is a mathematical phrase combining numbers and/or variables using mathematical operations.


Guided Practice

A student organization sells shirts to raise money for events and activities. The shirts are printed with the organization's logo and the total costs are $100 plus $7 for each shirt. The students sell the shirts for $15 each. Write an expression for the cost and an expression for the revenue (money earned).


We can use x to represent the number of shirts. For the cost, we have a fixed $100 charge and then $7 times the number of shirts printed. This can be expressed as  100+7x . For the revenue, we have $15 times the number of shirts sold, or  15x .

Video Review



Sample explanations for some of the practice exercises below are available by viewing the following video. Note that there is not always a match between the number of the practice exercise in the video and the number of the practice exercise listed in the following exercise set. However, the practice exercise is the same in both. CK-12 Basic Algebra: Patterns and Equations (13:18)

For exercises 1 – 15, translate the English phrase into an algebraic expression. For the exercises without a stated variable, choose a letter to represent the unknown quantity.

In exercises 16 – 24, write an English phrase for each algebraic expression

In exercises 25 – 28, define a variable to represent the unknown quantity and write an expression to describe the situation.

Use your sense of variables and operations to answer the following questions.

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Feb 24, 2012

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Jul 22, 2014
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