13.1 - Simplifying radicals

You may want to review the sections on integer exponents and exponents in general before you read this section.


Radical notation

Here is a picture of a radical defining its parts:
Note:

A radical is merely an alternative way to write an exponential whose exponent is a reciprocal . It is defined like this:
This means that for every property or rule that holds for an exponential there is a corresponding property or rule for a radical.



Root of a power and power of a root

A base raised to a fractional exponent m/n can be written in two ways in terms of radicals: Note that the nth power of the nth root of any quantity and the nth root of the nth power of any quantity just equal that quantity:
  and   .
Thus the nth power and the nth root are inverse functions.


Root of a product or quotient

In section 3.3 we saw that a power of a product could be rewritten as a product of powers and a power of a quotient could be rewritten as a quotient of powers. For example:
and

This means that the root of a product can be rewritten as a product of roots:
and the root of a quotient can be rewritten as a quotient of roots:


Examples: The properties of radicals given above can be used to simplify the expressions on the left to give the expressions on the right.

Simplest form of a radical

A radical is said to be in simplest form (or standard form) when:

Removing factors from the radicand

Suppose that the index of the radical is n. Then factor the radicand so that one or more of the factors is a perfect nth power. Then rewrite the root of the product as a product of roots and use the fact that to simplify those factors. This process is called removing factors from the radicand.



Examples: All of the following are square roots. Therefore we look for perfect square factors in the radicand. In the first example the factor 25 is a perfect square. In the second example the factor x 4 is a perfect square. In the third example we factor out 4 rather than 20 because 4 is a perfect square whereas 20 is not. In the last example the entire radicand is a perfect square.

Rationalizing the denominator

An expression is considered to be simpler when its denominator contains no radicals.

Suppose that the denominator of a fraction contains a square root. Then multiply both the numerator and denominator of the fraction by that square root and simplify. This may produce a radical in the numerator but it will eliminate the radical from the denominator. This process is called rationalizing the denominator.



Example: Simplify the expression .

Solution: Here are the steps:


Suppose that a square root contains a fraction. Then multiply both the numerator and denominator of the fraction by the denominator of the fraction and simplify. This may produce a radical in the numerator but it will eliminate the radical from the denominator. This process is also called rationalizing the denominator.



Example: Simplify the expression .

Solution: Here are the steps:

Combining products of radicals

We saw above that the root of a product could be rewritten as a product of roots. Here we want to go the other way. It sometimes happens that converting a product of roots to the root of a product produces a perfect square factor and that factor can then be removed from the radicand.



Example: Simplify the expression .

Solution: Write this as the root of a product, namely of 60, and then notice that 60 has a perfect square factor of 4, which can then be removed from the radicand.

Reducing the index

It is sometimes possible to reduce the index by writing the radical in exponential form and then reducing the fractional exponent to lowest terms.



Example: Simplify the expression .

Solution: Write this in exponential notation and use the exponentiation property of exponents to give the single exponent 2/6 and then reduce the fraction 2/6 to 1/3.

Binomial denominators containing radicals

Suppose that the denominator of a fraction is a binomial (i.e. it contains two terms) and that one or both of those terms is a radical. Then multiplying the numerator and denominator of the fraction by the binomial conjugate of the denominator and distributing will eliminate all radicals from the denominator. (Note that the binomial conjugate of the binomial a + b is the binomial ab and vice versa.



Example: Eliminate the radical from the denominator of the expression .

Solution: Follow these steps:




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