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Finding the Greatest Common Factor in Algebra (Mathematics Lesson)

Finding the Greatest Common Factor in Algebra

The greatest common factor of two or more terms in algebra can be found.

Imagine we wanted to find the greatest common factor of the two terms shown below:

2 x squared y squared and 4 x y cubed

How to Find the Greatest Common Factor

Finding the greatest common factor is easy.

An Example Question

What is the greatest common factor of the terms shown below?

2 x squared y squared and 4 x y cubed
Step 1

Look at the number that appears in both terms.

2x2y2, 4xy3

Find the greatest common factor of these numbers. In our example, the greatest common factor of 2 and 4 is 2.

2

Read more about finding the greatest common factor of a number

Step 2

Look at the letters (and/or brackets) that appear in both terms. In our example, x and y appear in both terms.

For each letter that appears in both terms, find the letter with the smallest exponent.

  • Look at the x terms.

    2x2y2, 4xy3

    x has the smallest exponent. (x has an implicit exponent of 1 (x = x1), whereas x2 has an exponent of 2).

    x
  • Look at the y terms.

    2x2y2, 4xy3

    y2 has the smallest exponent. (y2 has an exponent of 2, whereas y3 has an exponent of 3).

    y squared
Step 3

Write the terms found in the previous Steps next to each other.

The greatest common factor of 2x2y2 and 4xy3 is:

2 x y squared

A Real Example of How to Find the Greatest Common Factor in Algebra

The slider below gives another example of finding the greatest common factor in algebra, and some examples of why it is useful:

Curriculum
Algebra Lessons
Interactive Test
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Here's a second test on finding the greatest common factor.
Here's a third test on finding the greatest common factor.

Note

What Is a Factor in Algebra?

A factor is a quantity that divides exactly into a term.

A factor is one of the numbers, letters and brackets (or a product of them) that are multipled together to make a term.

What Is the Greatest Common Factor in Algebra?

The greatest common factor in algebra is the largest factor that is common to two or more terms.

Finding the Greatest Common Factor of More Than Two Terms

In the examples here, the greatest common factor has been been found for two terms. But the same procedure extends to any number of terms.