Placement of the Negative Sign in a Negative Mixed Number
Date: 10/25/2004 at 16:35:09 From: Julia and Sam Subject: Negative Fractions When you have a negative improper fraction, does the negative sign automatically distribute throughout your fraction? For instance, is -1 3/5 the same as 1 -3/5 and 1 3/-5? We have an intuitive sense that the fractions are equal, but we are having trouble proving it. If this is true, why is it the case? Your help is much appreciated! Julia and Sam
Date: 10/25/2004 at 22:51:24 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Negative Fractions Hi, Julia. Mixed numbers don't play well with negative signs, or with algebraic notation in general. When we write 1 3/5, we really mean (1 + 3/5), and the negative -1 3/5 means -(1 + 3/5), which distributes as -1 + -3/5 So -1 3/5 = -(1 + 3/5) = -8/5 1 -3/5 = 1 - (3/5) = 2/5 1 3/-5 = (1)(3/-5) = -3/5 Or at least that's how I would interpret each expression if I came across it out of context! Only the first contains cues that strongly suggest a mixed number is intended, since we never write mixed numbers with negative fractional parts. Generally, it's better to use improper fractions instead of mixed numbers in algebra, to avoid not only that source of confusion, but also something like 1 3/5 x, where the first space means addition, the second means multiplication, and parentheses have to be supplied. If you have any further questions, feel free to write back. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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