Understanding meaning of the mathematical expressions

When solving mathematical problems, it is essential to know the meaning of the expressions you see on a test or a homework problem. If you don’t understand the meaning of the expression, you won’t be able to correctly do the problem. This post covers meaning behind equality and the four basic mathematical expressions: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.


This is about having equal or same parts. An equal symbol (=) is used to indicate equality, in mathematics. Following are some of the mathematical expression meaning equality:

  • x is equal to y
  • x is equivalent to y
  • x is the same y

Each of these expressions means both x and y are equal or equivalent.


In mathematics, when we are talking about adding, we are talking about increasing. Increasing what and why how much is indicated in the problem. Observe the following expressions:

  • total of x and y
  • sum of x and y
  • x added to y
  • x increased by y

These mathematical expressions mean add x to y or x + y. A plus sign (+) indicates an addition operation.


In mathematics, subtraction is about reducing or making less. Again, as for addition, what you are reducing and by how much are dependent on the mathematical problem. The following are some of the mathematical expressions you may encounter while working with subtractions:

  • x less y
  • x minus y
  • the difference between x and y
  • from x subtract y
  • x decreased by y
  • x diminished by y

These mathematical expressions mean subtract y from x or x - y. A sign indicating subtraction is -.


With multiplication in general the result is increased, just with addition. The result depends on what your mathematical expression. Here are mathematical expressions that all mean the same:

  • x multiplied by y
  • the product of x and y

In each of the above expressions, the meaning is that we want to multiply x by y, or x * y. * or X indicate multiplication.


Division is similar to a subtraction operation in the sense that they both in general produce a lower (not the lowest!) resulting value than the numbers used for the carrying out the operations. 12 - 4 = 8 and 12 / 4 =3 is a good example of this statement. Here are some expressions indicating division operations:

  • x divided by y
  • the quotient of x and y

÷ and / indicate division.

Posted on 12/17/2006
by Raj Singh