Solving Negative Exponents

You already know that an exponent represents the number of times you have to multiply a number by itself. For example, 24 means 2*2*2*2. But what if your variable is being raised to a negative exponent? If you were given 2-4, how would you multiply two by itself negative four times?

A negative exponent is equivalent to the inverse of the same number with a positive exponent. In other words:

negative exponents

There is nothing special about solving a problem that includes negative exponentials. It's just an intermediate step that you may or may not want to complete to make things simpler. The best way to get comfortable with negative exponents is to work a few example problems that use them. Here are some samples:

Samples:

more negative exponent examples

 

 

Perhaps you'd like to try solving some equations with negative exponents on variables. This works just like solving any other equation. Don't be scared by the fact that the exponent is negative. Just work it out and remember to "flip over" (invert) the number if it has a negative exponent.

Example:

Solve the following for x:

ex1

Solution:

You can see a negative exponent, so what's the first thing you might want to do? I would try to get the exponent to be positive. So, following our definition, just flip over the number and make the exponent positive!

solution

 

Negative exponents are nothing to be afraid of. Remember that when you see a negative exponent you can put it on the other side of the fraction bar and make it a positive exponent. If you need more math help with this subject, you can see our math help message board and ask your question for free.

(c) 2007 Ted Wilcox

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