What is Elementary Algebra?

Elementary algebra introduces the basic rules and operations of algebra, one of the main branches of mathematics. Whereas arithmetic deals with specific numbers and operators (e.g. 3 + 2 = 5), algebra introduces variables, which are letters that represent non-specific numbers (e.g. 3a + 2a = 5a). Algebra also defines the rules and conventions of how it is written (called algebraic notation). For example, the multiplication symbol, , is sometimes replaced with a dot, or even omitted completely, because its context makes its use obvious (e.g. 3 a may be written 3a).

Elementary algebra is typically taught to secondary school students who are presumed to have little or no formal knowledge of mathematics beyond arithmetic as "algebra". As an introduction, elementary algebra can be found in books from the early 19th century.

Elementary algebra is useful in several ways, including (a) describing generalized problems; if Ann is 3 years older than Bob, this may be written algebraically as a = b + 3. (b) defining mathematical rules such as (a + b) = (b + a) stating that when adding two numbers, the order of numbers does not matter (see commutativity). (c) describing the relationship between numbers such as between temperatures on the Fahrenheit scale (F) and the Centigrade scale (C), given by F = (9C ÷ 5) + 32.

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