The LessonAn exponent tells you how many times a number (or other quantity) is multiplied by itself.
Dictionary DefinitionThe Oxford English Dictionary defines an exponent as "a symbol denoting the number of times a particular quantity is to be taken as a factor to produce the power indicated."
Understanding ExponentsIt is easier to understand exponents with an example. Imagine we wanted to multiply 3 by itself 2 times. We would write 3 with a small 2 written to the right and above it: 32.
Powers, Bases and Exponents
- A power is the product of multiplying a number by itself. 32 is equal to 3 multiplied by itself 2 times, which equals 9.
- 3 is called the base. It is the number that is multiplying itself.
- 2 is called the exponent. It tells you how many times the base is multiplying itself.
Real Examples of an ExponentSome real examples of exponents are given below.
The power below has an exponent of 3:
The power below has an exponent of 4:
The exponent can also be a letter. The power below has an exponent of n:
Negative ExponentsExponents can also be a negative number. A negative exponent tells you how many times to divide 1 by the number. For example, 3−2 means divide 1 by 3, 2 times:
A negative exponent means put the base under 1 (or turn it upside-down if the base is a fraction), and make the exponent positive.
Read more about how to find a negative exponent
Fractional ExponentsAn exponent can be a fraction. A fractional exponent means finding a root of a number. For example, 3½ means the square root of 3:
Exponents, Powers and IndicesAn exponent can also be called a power or an index (plural indices).
Saying an ExponentHow do you say 32? You could say:
- 3 to the power of 2.
- The second power of 2.
- 3 to the 2.
- In the special case where the exponent is 2, we can say 3 "squared".
The Laws of ExponentsThere are several laws of exponents, which are very useful in algebra. We use these laws when we are multiplying and dividing bases with exponents. They also help us understand negative and fractional exponents.
Read more about the laws of exponents