Reading Algebraic Expressions

Reading algebraic expressions can be confusing for some. Use this lesson on reading algebraic equations to help you better understand them.


Operators are the symbols that tell us what to do in math problems. You've seen them all before:

+ - ÷ x

These symbols let you know how to calculate an expression—for instance, when you see the plus sign you know to add two numbers, and when you see the minus sign you know to subtract. The plus and minus signs are the same in algebra, but multiplication and division might be written a bit differently.


In arithmetic, multiplication is usually written as like this:

2 x 6

However, in algebra the multiplication symbol is written a bit differently. This is because x looks similar to the variable x. For this reason, many people use this dot symbol to show multiplication: ⋅ (which is what you'll see in our lessons). In algebra, a multiplication problem is written like this:

2 ⋅ 6

There are a few other ways to show multiplication in algebra. As you saw when we multiplied coefficients, you can simply write variables next to each other to multiply them. If you wanted to multiply x and y, you could simply write xy.



There are a few ways to show division in algebra. You're probably most familiar with division problems that look like this:

4 ÷ 2

You will see division written this way in algebra. However, you'll also see it written like this (especially in our lessons):

4 / 2

If you're dividing groups of numbers, you can also show division with a horizontal line. For example, look at this problem:

3x - 12y + 18

Here, everything above the line is divided by everything below it, so you'd divide 3x - 12y + 18 by 3.