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Multiplication and Division of Rational Expressions

Explanation
Recall that to multiply two fractions, we simply multiply numerators and multiply
denominators and then reduce to lowest terms, if possible:
3 10 30

4 21 84
5

14

Multiply numerators
Multiply denominators
Reduce to lowest terms

Recall also that the same result can be achieved by factoring numerators and
denominators first and then dividing out the factors they have in common:
3 10
3 2 5

4 21 2 2 3 7
3 2 5

2 2 3 7
5

14

Factor
Divide out common factors
Multiply remaining numerators
Multiply remaining denominators

We can apply the second process to the products of two rational expressions, as the following
example illustrates.
Example 1
Solution

Multiply:

x 2 x2 9

x 3 2x 4

We begin by factoring numerators and denominators as much as possible.


Then we multiply the numerators and denominators. The last step consists of
dividing out all factors common to the numerator and denominator:

x 2 x 2 9 x 2 ( x 3)( x 3)

x 3 2x 4 x 3
2 ( x 2)
( x 2)( x 3)( x 3)

( x 3) 2( x 2)
x3

Factor completely
Divide out common factors

Multiplication & Division of Rational ExpressionsExplanation


4/03, Rev. 2/12/13mm-fd

557

x2
x 5 x2 4
(Answer:
)

3
x 2 3x 15
We can define division as the equivalent of multiplication by the reciprocal. This is how it
looks with fractions:
Practice Problem 1 Multiply:

4 8 4 9

5 9 5 8
2 2 3 3

5 2 2 2
9

10

Division as multiplication by the reciprocal

Factor and divide out common factors

The same idea holds for division with rational expressions. The rational expression that
follows the division symbol is called the divisor; to divide, we multiply by the reciprocal of
the divisor.
3x 9
x 2 2 x 15

x 2 x 20
x 2 25

Example 2

Divide:

Solution

We begin by taking the reciprocal of the divisor and writing the problem again
in terms of multiplication. We then factor, multiply, and , finally, divide out
all factors common to the numerator and denominator of the resulting
expression. The complete problem looks like this:
3x 9
x 2 2 x 15

x 2 x 20
x 2 25
=

3x 9
x 2 25

x 2 x 20 x 2 2 x 15

Multiply by the reciprocal of the divisor

3( x 3)
( x 5)( x 5)Factor

( x 4)( x 5) ( x 5)( x 3)
3( x 3)( x 5)( x 5)

( x 4)( x 5)( x 5)( x 3) Divide out common factors


3

x4

Mult & Div of Rational Expressions


4/03 Math Disk 55
Rev. 2/12/13

557

Practice Problem 2

Divide:

4x 8
x 2 7 x 12

x2 x 6
x2 9

(Answer:

4
)
x4

As you can see, factoring is the single most important tool we use in working with rational
expressions. Most of the work we have done or will do with rational expressions is most
easily accomplished if the rational expressions are in factored form. Here are some more
examples of multiplication and division with rational expressions.
3a 6
a

2
2a 4
a

Example 3

Multiply:

Solution

3a 6
a

2
2a 4
a
3(a 2)
a

Factor completely
2
2( a 2 )
a
3(a 2)a
Divide out common factors
2
a (2)(a 2)
3

2a

Practice Problem 3 Multiply:

Example 4

Solution

Divide:

2a 10
a2

3a 15
a2

(Answer:

2
)
3a

x 2 7 x 12 x 2 6 x 9

2x 8
x 2 16

x 2 7 x 12 x 2 6 x 9

2x 8
x 2 16
2
x 7 x 12
2x 8

2
Division is multiplication by the reciprocal
2
x 16
x 6x 9
( x 3)( x 4)(2)( x 4) Factor and divide out common factors

( x 4)( x 4)( x 3)( x 3)


2

x3

In Example 4, we factored and multiplied the two expressions in a single step. This saves
writing the problem one extra time.
3

Mult & Div of Rational Expressions


4/03 Math Disk 55
Rev. 2/12/13

557

Practice Problem 4 Divide:

x 2 x 12 x 2 6 x 9

2x 8
x 2 16

(Answer:

2
)
x3

x 4
( x 2 49)

x7

Example 5

Multiply:

Solution

We can think of the polynomial x2 49 as having a denominator of 1.


Thinking of x2 49 in this way allows us to proceed as we did in previous
examples:
x 2 49 x 4
x 4
( x 2 49)


1
x7
x7
( x 7)( x 7)( x 4)

x7
( x 7)( x 4)

Write x2 49 with denominator 1


Factor and divide out common factors

We can leave the answer in this form or multiply to get x2 3x 28.


x 2

x 3

2
Practice Problem 5 Multiply: ( x 9)

(Answer: (x - 3)(x + 2))

Example 6

a4

Multiply: a(a 5)(a 5) 2


a 5a

Solution

We can think of the expression a (a 5)(a 5) as having a denominator of 1:

a4
a( a 5)(a 5) 2

a 5a
a ( a 5)(a 5) a 4

2
1
a 5a
a ( a 5)(a 5)(a 4) Factor and divide out common factors

a (a 5)
(a 5)(a 4)
a5

Practice Problem 6 Multiply: a ( a 2)(a 4) 2


a 4a

(Answer: (a + 2)(a + 5))

Mult & Div of Rational Expressions


4/03 Math Disk 55
Rev. 2/12/13

557