Generally math is considered to be a game of numbers, patterns, shapes and logical operations. It is trusted with reliable outcomes and is applied to major real world operations. While the whole of the prior sentence is unequivocally true, math is not just about numbers. If not just numbers what else is it that is encompassed by math? The answer to this is “variables”. Variables are induced in mathematics to widen the applicability of concepts. These variables are actually alphabets that act as placeholders. These variables are instrumental in deriving valuable equations that can in turn facilitate solutions to wider problems.

This article gives a detailed introduction of terms in math, their respective types and their applicability. Before discussing “what is terms in math?” it is vital to understand where they belong in math and what is their utility?


Math is basically five major streams. These streams are numbers, spaces and shapes, algebra, mensuration and statistics and data analysis. It is algebra where the terms and variables belong.  Algebra introduces learners to application of alphabets in mathematical operations. It can be said that introduction of variable terms makes mathematical operations simpler and easy going. However this gets complicated in the mature stages of calculation.


In the initial stages of learning algebra, students generally get confused between terms, coefficients, variables and expressions. To get a clear picture of algebraic elements any doubt or confusion should be cleared before starting to solve algebraic problems. Variables are simply individual alphabets whose values are jot constant and may vary with conditions. Most commonly used variables are, a, b, c or x, y, z for that matter. 

Coefficients are the multiplicative factors attached with the alphabetical variables. These coefficients determine the number of times a variable is added in the given expression. In the expression 2a + 3b + c, 2 and 3 are the coefficients of a and b respectively. Here in the given expression 2 and 3 represent that a and b are added 2 and 3 times respectively.

Terms are basically individual units in a mathematical expression. Say 2x + y is an algebraic expression, then “2x” and “y” are individual terms. It is not mandatory to have an alphabet in the term. It can be a voluntary number in the larger expression. For example: 23+45+10= 78 is an expression and “23”, “45” and “10” are the individual units or terms in the expression.

Expressions on the other hand are a collection or more precisely combinations of mathematical terms linked together by mathematical signs. These are designed to produce aspirated outcomes. For example 2x + y + 1=3 can be termed as a mathematical expression. These expressions are basically derived from geographical coordinates.


Terms in math can be primarily categorised into like and unlike terms based on the type of variables attached to them within an expression. The essence of the above statement is that when two or more variables are used with the coefficients of different terms, like x in 2x and y in 3y the terms become mutually inoperable. Each of these types is dealt with in detail below:

  1. Like terms: like terms are generally defined as two or more terms that have common variables. In addition to variables, if the expression is exponential in nature, i.e. if it contains exponents of variables such as  x2, y2, z3 etc, then the terms are required to have similar exponents to the terms, in order to be like and mutually operable. 5x + 4x + 8 is an expression with 5x and 4x as like terms.
  1. Unlike terms: unlike terms on the other hand are the terms that have different variables attached to coefficients. For example the expression 2x2 + 5y + 9 comprises all the terms as unlike terms. These terms can be a part of the same expression but cannot be operated mutually. In order to perform any operation on these terms, to fetch a numerical output, it is required to insert a value in place of one of the two terms to get the real value of the other term.


Having a clear idea of what is a term in math; one can now easily solve algebraic problems in mathematics. Terms are the basic components of the expressions. These terms are the determining factors in deciding the complexity of expressions. Expressions vary from monomial, binomial and polynomial and so on, i.e. they contain single, double, and multiple terms in a single expression. Apart from differing on the grounds of variables, the terms can also differ on the basis of degrees. The terms in the expressions can have varying exponential degrees of 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. So there is a diverse range of algebraic terms and based on that algebraic expressions available for students to work upon. 

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