equation, in mathematics, a statement, usually written in symbols, that states the equality of two quantities or algebraic expressions, e.g., x +3 = 5. The quantity x +3, to the left of the equals sign ( = ), is called the left-hand, or first, member of the equation, that to the right (5) the right-hand, or second, member. A numerical equation is one containing only numbers, e.g., 2+3 = 5. A literal equation is one that, like the first example, contains some letters (representing unknowns or variables). An identical equation is a literal equation that is true for every value of the variable, e.g., the equation ( x +1)2 = x 2+2 x +1. A conditional equation (usually referred to simply as an equation) is a literal equation that is not true for all values of the variable, e.g., only the value 2 for x makes true the equation x +3 = 5. To solve an equation is to find the value or values of the variable that satisfy it. Polynomial equations, containing more than one term, are classified according to the highest degree of the variable they contain. Thus the first example is a first degree (also called linear) equation. The equation ax 2+ bx + c = 0 is a second degree, or quadratic, equation in the unknown x if the letters a, b, and c are assumed to represent constants. In algebra, methods are evolved for solving various types of equations. To be valid the solution must satisfy the equation. Whether it does can be ascertained by substituting the supposed solution for the variable in the equation. The simultaneous solution of two or more equations is a set of values of the variables that satisfies each of the equations. In order that a solution may exist, the number of equations (i.e., conditions) must generally be no greater than the number of variables. In chemistry an equation (see chemical equation) is used to represent a reaction.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.