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Terms in Algebra (Mathematics Glossary)

What Is a Term in Algebra?

A term is a collection of numbers, letters and brackets all multiplied together.

Terms are separated by + or - signs in an algebraic expression.

Dictionary Definition

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a term as "in an algebraic expression: each of the components that are connected by elementary signs of arithmetic, esp. those of addition and subtraction."

Real Examples of Terms in Algebra

It is easier to understand terms with examples.

  • A term can be a number:

  • A term can be a letter:


    The letter can be a variable (that can take any value) or it can be a constant (that only has one value).

  • A term can have a number and a letter together:

    2 x

    The number is multiplying the letter. 2 is the coefficient of x.

  • A term can have two or more letters next to each other:

    a b c

    In this case, the letters are mutiplying each other.

  • A term can have letters which have an exponent.

    x y squared

    An exponent tells you how many times that letter is multiplied with itself

  • A term can contain brackets next to other numbers and letters:

    p (q - r)

    The parentheses muliply the rest of the term.

Read more about how to mulitply letters

Terms in an Expression in Algebra

Terms are separated by + and - signs in an expression.

2 x + a b c - p (q - r)

Expressions are built from terms that are added or subtracted together.

More Real Examples of Terms in Algebra

Algrebraic terms can get quite complicated. The slider below has some more real examples of terms in algebra.

Algebra Lessons
Interactive Test

Here's a second test on terms.
Here's a third test on terms.


What Is Algebra?

Algebra is using letters (or other symbols) to represent numbers.

What's in a Name?

Algebra comes from the Arabic word 'al-jebr', meaning "reunion of broken parts".

Factors of a Term

A term is made by multiplying numbers, letters and brackets together.

Each number, letter and bracket that is multiplied to make the term is a factor of that term.

Read more about factors in algebra

Like Terms

Terms that have the same combination of letters are called "like terms".

For example, x, 3x, ½x are all like terms.

Also, xy2, 5xy2, ¼xy2 are all like terms.

Number terms, like 2, 6 and -1 are also like terms.

This is useful when we want to "collect like terms" in order to simplify an expression.