How to Determine Absolute Value

In algebra, the absolute value operation tells you how far a number is from zero. It doesn’t pay any attention to whether the number is less than or greater than zero, and so absolute values are always positive numbers. The symbol for absolute value is two vertical bars:| |.

Finding the absolute value of a number is one of the most important nonbinary operations. Binary operations require two numbers and involve the kind of math you’re used to doing: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. But nonbinary operations in algebra use only one number, such as finding square roots or absolute values.

Finding absolute values of numbers is often used within algebraic expressions, so you need to know how to solve for an absolute value. For example:


The absolute value doesn’t pay attention to whether a number is positive or negative — only how far that number is from zero. If the signs confuse you, visualize a number line, such as –5, –4, –3, –2, –1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and count to zero from the number for which you’re solving absolute value.