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7.4: Simplify Sums or Differences of Single Variable Expressions

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
Atoms Practice
Practice Simplify Sums or Differences of Single Variable Expressions
Practice Now

Let’s Think About It

Credit: Steven Depolo
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3796415185/in/photolist-4X3rr6-6MtBYe-6Mx PkN-6MxPjd-7RWfcP-5YWtzd-5gcV5z-4u7Gam-5W9GEv-5ghaBd-i8WoBo-9FqzUg-7RWdjk-5ghedQ-7Nf otq-6EfaMp-5nW87N-5gcREV-5J1FXC-6yU1EB-76Cj6F-2Zg1aq-7SeUqb-5gcToV-5gh9tN-7SeU2L-5cjMTo- 7eqSii-5dLCdb-gHyExY-6qpJih-57933h-4EjBjM-ajAHqr-dc38cn-fqrDJV-8a2mdT-4F3dY4-59AtfF-gYisz-5Y ScgD-ad2n2G-6CbHba-6f5Fra-8fhgY1-9dV1Cd-e3g66w-5ctN5D-ddWiiH-e1tEiN
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Marc is heading to his local ice cream store. This particular store doesn't have a lot of flavor choices, but they have the BEST vanilla ice cream around. Marc has taken orders from several of his neighbors, too, and has written them all down so that he can keep track of who wants what.

The Johnsons - two vanilla ice cream cones

The Mumfords - three vanilla ice cream cones

Jill Stales - one vanilla ice cream cone

The Porters - three vanilla ice cream cones

How can Marc write this information as an algebraic expression and then simplify it?

In this concept, you will learn how to simplify single variable expressions.


If an expression has only numbers, you can calculate its numerical value. However, if an expression includes variables, it is helpful to simplify the expression.

Look at this example.

Simplify the expression 6a+3a.

When adding expressions with variables, it is important to remember that only like terms can be combined. For example, 6a and 3a are like terms because both terms include the variable a. So, you can combine them.


Here is another example.

Simplify 6a+3.

6a and 3 are not like terms because only one term includes the variable a. So, you cannot combine them. The expression 6a+3 cannot be simplified any further.

Here is another example.

Simplify 15d2d.

Since 15d and 2d both have the same variable, they are like terms. To find the difference, subtract the numerical parts of the terms the same way you would subtract any numbers.


The answer is 13d.

Here is an example using decimals.

Simplify 0.4x+1.3x.

Since 0.4x and 1.3x both have the same variable, they are like terms. To find the sum, add the numerical parts of the terms the same way you would add any decimals.


The answer is 1.7x.

Guided Practice

Simplify the expression.


To simplify this expression, follow the order of operations and combine like terms in order from left to right. Here is what the expression looks like after the first two terms have been combined.


Next, perform the subtraction to get: 7a+6a

Finally, add the terms.


The answer is 13a.


Simplify each sum or difference when possible.

Example 1


These are like terms, so add the numerical parts together.

The answer is 15a.

Example 2


These are like terms, so subtract the numerical parts.

The answer is 14x.

Example 3


These are not like terms.

The terms are not alike so you cannot combine them. The expression is in the simplest form already.

The answer is 7y+2x.

Follow Up

Credit: Donnie Ray Jones
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donnieray/16209503493/in/photolist-qGnWEa-erVgM-89 Lwu8-ayAWdS-6oVRiG-cZjr2A-6xPUzf-6B777-3aK9TU-iB6JG-2UdG8u-fDhT5-iB6CX-7fQtcY-q25fjw-89P Mzf-89Lw9x-9siyJH-4mWf2B-7fQsew-8MCUGP-fu26Pu-cB6tPQ-bTSto6-iGtDT-J41Ky-43NZev-7fQxMo- kzGiz2-8e2mc7-6EQk6C-4k8zAH-BFKxi-6RJFWY-bwspY2-6RJG5o-8ZT2VC-4B4vsL-4AZf2D-4B4vBw-4B4 vEL-4B4vyf-4AZeVH-4AZeRp-4B4vmJ-7atga4-8DWwGE-eJJW4o-7fLvqZ-3fXxLZ
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Remember Marc and all his vanillas?

Marc needs to write an expression to simplify his order: two vanillas, three vanillas, one vanilla, and three vanillas.

Let v represent an ice cream cone. Then you can represent this situation as a single variable expression.


Looking at this expression, you will see that the variables are all the same. Therefore, simply add the numerical part of each term.


The answer is 9v.

Video Review


Explore More

Simplify each sum or difference by combining like terms.

  1. 6a+7a
  2. 7x2x
  3. 6y+12y
  4. 8a+12a
  5. 12y7y
  6. 8a+15a
  7. 13b9b
  8. 22x+19x
  9. 45y12y
  10. 16a+18a+9a
  11. 14x6x+2x
  12. 21a+14a15a 
  13. 33b+13b+8b
  14. 45x+67x29x
  15. 92y+6y54y




The result of a subtraction operation is called a difference.


An expression is a mathematical phrase containing variables, operations and/or numbers. Expressions do not include comparative operators such as equal signs or inequality symbols.


To simplify means to rewrite an expression to make it as "simple" as possible. You can simplify by removing parentheses, combining like terms, or reducing fractions.


The sum is the result after two or more amounts have been added together.


Difficulty Level:

At Grade


Date Created:

Nov 30, 2012

Last Modified:

Sep 23, 2015
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