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What Is It?

Addition and Subtraction of Fractions

If a candy bar is broken into two parts to share, it is incorrect for you to say, "I want the bigger half." If a candy bar is truly broken into two halves, then both parts would be equal. One half of the candy bar combined with the other half would equal the whole candy bar. The fraction means one of two equal parts. The 1 is the numerator, and the 2 is the denominator of the fraction.

Before computing with fractions, it's important to understand the meanings of the numerator and denominator of a fraction. Figure 1 shows a rectangle divided into four equal parts.

Figure 1

Figure 2 displays three of the four parts shaded. The fraction represents three of four equal parts shaded. The 3, or numerator, tells you how many parts are shaded, while the 4, or denominator, shows how many equal parts the whole is divided into.

Figure 2

When adding fractions such as + , you add only the numerators, while keeping the same denominator ( + = ). A pictorial demonstration of addition of fractions with like denominators provides a much clearer explanation of why we do not add the denominators. Figure 3 shows a rectangle divided into six equal parts.

Figure 3

Figure 4 shows the same rectangle with two of six equal parts shaded. Figure 5 shows three parts of the whole (six parts) shaded. When adding + , the result is , which means five of six equal parts shaded, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

It is important to notice that the sum of + = and is a fraction with a denominator of 6. Since you have added two of six equal parts to three of six equal parts your result is five of six equal parts. Similarly, if you were to start with 5 parts shaded, then erase the shading from 2 parts, 3 shaded parts would remain. Thus, .

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