By Mark Zegarelli

A term in an algebraic expression is any chunk of symbols set off from the rest of the expression by either addition or subtraction. As algebraic expressions get more complex, they begin to string themselves out in more terms. Here are some examples:

Expression Number of Terms Terms
5x One 5x
–5x + 2 Two –5x and 2
x2y + z/3 – xyz +
Four x2y, z/3, –xyz,
and 8

No matter how complicated an algebraic expression gets, you can always separate it out into one or more terms.

When separating an algebraic expression into terms, group the plus or minus sign with the term that it immediately precedes.

When a term has a variable, it’s called an algebraic term. When it doesn’t have a variable, it’s called a constant. For example, look at the following expression:

x2y + z/3 – xyz + 8

The first three terms are algebraic terms, and the last term is a constant. As you can see, in algebra, constant is just a fancy word for number.

Terms are really useful to know about because you can follow rules to move them, combine them, and perform the Big Four operations on them. All these skills are important for solving equations.