Greatest Common Factor

Learning Objective(s)

·         Find the greatest common factor (GCF) of monomials.

·         Factor polynomials by factoring out the greatest common factor (GCF).

·         Factor expressions with four terms by grouping.

Introduction

Factors are the building blocks of multiplication. They are the numbers that you can multiply together to produce another number: 2 and 10 are factors of 20, as are 4 and 5 and 1 and 20. To factor a number is to rewrite it as a product. 20 = 4 • 5.

Likewise to factor a polynomial, you rewrite it as a product. Just as any integer can be written as the product of factors, so too can any monomial or polynomial be expressed as a product of factors. Factoring is very helpful in simplifying and solving equations using polynomials.

A is similar to a prime number—it has only itself and 1 as factors. The process of breaking a number down into its prime factors is called prime factorization.

Greatest Common Factor

Let’s first find the greatest common factor (GCF) of two whole numbers. The GCF of two numbers is the greatest number that is a factor of both of the numbers. Take the numbers 50 and 30.

50 = 10 • 5

30 = 10 • 3

Their greatest common factor is 10, since 10 is the greatest factor that both numbers have in common.

To find the GCF of greater numbers, you can factor each number to find their prime factors, identify the prime factors they have in common, and then multiply those together.

Example

Problem

Find the greatest common factor of 210 and 168.

210 = 2 3 5 7

168 = 2 2 2 3 7

GCF = 2 3 7

# GCF = 42

Because the GCF is the product of the prime factors that these numbers have in common, you know that it is a factor of both numbers. (If you want to test this, go ahead and divide both 210 and 168 by 42—they are both evenly divisible by this number!)

Finding the greatest common factor in a set of monomials is not very different from finding the GCF of two whole numbers. The method remains the same: factor each monomial independently, look for common factors, and then multiply them to get the GCF.

 Example Problem Find the greatest common factor of 25b3 and 10b2. 25b3 = 5 • 5 • b • b • b 10b2 = 5 • 2 • b • b GCF = 5 • b • b Answer GCF = 5b2

The monomials have the factors 5, b, and b in common, which means their greatest common factor is 5 • bb, or simply 5b2.

 Example Problem Find the greatest common factor of 81c3d and 45c2d2. 81c3d = 3 • 3 • 3 • 3 • c • c • c • d 45c2d2 = 3 • 3 • 5 • c • c • d • d GCF = 3 • 3 • c • c • d Answer GCF = 9c2d

 Find the greatest common factor of 56xy and 16y3.   A) 8   B) 8y   C) 16y   D) 8xy3   Show/Hide Answer

Using the GCF to Factor Polynomials

When two or more monomials are combined (either added or subtracted), the resulting expression is called a polynomial. If you can find common factors for each term of the polynomial, then you can factor the polynomial.

As you look at the examples of simple polynomials below, try to identify factors that the terms of the polynomial have in common.

 Polynomial Terms Common Factors 6x + 9 6x and 9 3 is a factor of 6x and 9 a2 – 2a a2 and −2a a is a factor of a2 and −2a 4c3 + 4c 4c3 and 4c 4 and c are factors of 4c3 and 4c

To factor a polynomial, first identify the greatest common factor of the terms. You can then use the distributive property to rewrite the polynomial in a factored form. Recall that the distributive property of multiplication over addition states that a product of a number and a sum is the same as the sum of the products.

Product of a number and a sum: a(b + c) = ab + ac. You can say that “a is being distributed over b + c.”

Sum of the products:  ab + ac = a(b + c). Here you can say that “a is being factored out.”

In both cases, it is the distributive property that is being used.

 Example Problem Factor 25b3 + 10b2. 25b3 = 5 • 5 • b • b • b 10b2 = 5 • 2 • b • b GCF = 5 • b • b = 5b2 Find the GCF. From a previous example, you found the GCF of 25b3 and 10b2 to be 5b2. 25b3 = 5b2 • 5b   10b2 = 5b2 • 2 Rewrite each term with the GCF as one factor. 5b2(5b) + 5b2(2) Rewrite the polynomial using the factored terms in place of the original terms. 5b2(5b + 2) Factor out the 5b2. Answer 5b2(5b + 2)

The factored form of the polynomial 25b3 + 10b2 is 5b2(5b + 2). You can check this by doing the multiplication. 5b2(5b + 2) = 25b3 + 10b2.

Note that if you do not factor the greatest common factor at first, you can continue factoring, rather than start all over.

For example:

25b3 + 10b2 = 5(5b3 + 2b2)   Factor out 5.

= 5b2(5b + 2)   Then factor out b2.

Notice that you arrive at the same simplified form whether you factor out the GCF immediately or if you pull out factors individually.

## Example

Problem

Factor 81c3d + 45c2d2.

33 9 cc c d

Factor 81c3d.

33 5 cc d • d

Factor 45c2d2.

3 • 3 cc d = 9c2d

Find the GCF.

81c3d  = 9c2d(9c)

45c2d2 = 9c2d(5d)

Rewrite each term as the product of the GCF and the remaining terms.

9c2d(9c) + 9c2d(5d)

Rewrite the polynomial expression using the factored terms in place of the original terms.

9c2d(9c + 5d)

Factor out 9c2d.

9c2d(9c + 5d)

 Factor 8a6 – 11a5.   A) 88(a6 – a5)   B) 8a(a5 – 3)   C) a5(a – 1)   D) a5(8a – 11)   Show/Hide Answer

Factoring by Grouping

The distributive property allows you to factor out common factors. However, what do you do if the terms within the polynomial do not share any common factors?

If there is no common factor for all of the terms in the polynomial, another technique needs to be used to see if the polynomial can be factored. It involves organizing the polynomial in groups.

 Example Problem Factor 4ab + 12a + 3b + 9 (4ab + 12a) + (3b + 9) Group terms into pairs. 4ab = 2 • 2 • a • b 12a = 3 • 2 • 2 • a   GCF = 4a Find the GCF of the first pair of terms. (4a • b + 4a • 3) + (3b + 9) 4a(b + 3) + (3b + 9) Factor the GCF, 4a, out of the first group. 3b = 3 • b 9 = 3 • 3   GCF =3 Find the GCF of the second pair of terms. 4a(b + 3) +(3 • b + 3 • 3) 4a(b + 3) + 3(b + 3) Factor 3 out of the second group. 4a(b + 3) + 3(b + 3)       (b + 3)(4a + 3) Notice that the two terms have a common factor (b + 3).     Factor out the common factor (b + 3) from the two terms. Answer (b + 3)(4a + 3)

Notice that when you factor two terms, the result is a monomial times a polynomial. But the factored form of a four-term polynomial is the product of two binomials.

This process is called the grouping technique. Broken down into individual steps, here's how to do it (you can also follow this process in the example below).

• Group the terms of the polynomial into pairs.
• Factor each pair of terms (find the greatest common factor and then use the distributive property to pull out the GCF).
• Look for common factors between the factored forms of the paired terms.
• Factor the common polynomial out of the groups.

Let’s try factoring a few more four-term polynomials. Notice that in the example below, the first term is x2, and x is the only variable present.

 Example Problem Factor x2 + 2x + 5x + 10 (x2 + 2x) + (5x + 10) Group terms of the polynomial into pairs. x(x + 2) + (5x + 10) Factor out the like factor, x, from the first group. x(x + 2) + 5(x + 2) Factor out the like factor, 5, from the second group. (x + 2)(x + 5) Look for common factors between the factored forms of the paired terms. Here, the common factor is (x + 2).   Factor out the common factor, (x + 2), from both terms. The polynomial is now factored. Answer (x + 2)(x + 5)

This method of factoring only works in some cases. Notice that both factors here contain the term x.

 Example Problem Factor 2x2 – 3x + 8x – 12. (2x2 – 3x) + (8x – 12) Group terms into pairs. x(2x – 3) + 4(2x – 3) Factor the common factor, x, out of the first group and the common factor, 4, out of the second group. (x + 4)(2x – 3) Factor out the common factor, (2x – 3), from both terms. Answer (x + 4)(2x – 3)

 Example Problem Factor 3x2 + 3x – 2x – 2. (3x2 + 3x) + (−2x – 2) Group terms into pairs. Since subtraction is the same as addition of the opposite, you can write −2x – 2 as + (−2x – 2). 3x(x + 1) + (−2x – 2) Factor the common factor 3x out of first group. 3x(x + 1) −2(x + 1) Factor the common factor −2 out of the second group. Notice what happens to the signs within the parentheses once −2 is factored out. (x + 1)(3x – 2) Factor out the common factor, (x + 1), from both terms. Answer (x + 1)(3x – 2)

 Factor 10ab + 5b + 8a + 4.   A) (2a + 1)(5b + 4)   B) (5b + 2a)(4 + 1)   C) 5(2ab + b + 8a + 4)   D) (4 + 2a)(5b + 1)   Show/Hide Answer

Sometimes, you will encounter polynomials that, despite your best efforts, cannot be factored into the product of two binomials.

 Example Problem Factor 7x2 – 21x + 5x – 5. (7x2 – 21x) + (5x – 5) Group terms into pairs. 7x(x – 3) + (5x – 5) Factor the common factor 7x out of the first group. 7x(x – 3) + 5(x – 1) Factor the common factor 5 out of the second group. 7x(x – 3) + 5(x – 1) The two groups 7x(x – 3) and 5(x – 1) do not have any common factors, so this polynomial cannot be factored any further. Answer Cannot be factored

In the example above, each pair can be factored, but then there is no common factor between the pairs!

Summary

A whole number, monomial, or polynomial can be expressed as a product of factors. You can use some of the same logic that you apply to factoring integers to factoring polynomials. To factor a polynomial, first identify the greatest common factor of the terms, and then apply the distributive property to rewrite the expression. Once a polynomial in ab + ac form has been rewritten as a(b + c), where a is the GCF, the polynomial is in factored form.

When factoring a four-term polynomial using grouping, find the common factor of pairs of terms rather than the whole polynomial. Use the distributive property to rewrite the grouped terms as the common factor times a binomial. Finally, pull any common binomials out of the factored groups. The fully factored polynomial will be the product of two binomials.