What are fractions?

A fraction is part of a whole. It's less than 1 whole thing, but more than 0. We use fractions all the time in real life. Have you ever ordered a quarter-pound burger? Or noticed that your gas tank is half full? Both of these are fractions of the whole amount—a whole pound of meat, or a whole tank of gas.

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Fractions look a little like division expressions, but they aren't problems to be solved. They are a way of expressing an amount. Like numbers, fractions tell you how much you have of something.

Click through the slideshow to learn how fractions work.

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Let's imagine that you have one pizza divided into 8 slices.

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Say that you take 1 of the 8 slices.

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You could say that you took 1/8 of the pizza. 1/8 is a fraction.

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We write it like that because the pizza has 8 slices...

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We write it like that because the pizza has 8 slices...and you're taking 1.

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What if you take 2 slices?

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Now you're taking 2/8 of the pizza.

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The bottom number, 8, stayed the same, since the pizza is still divided into the same number of slices.

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The top number changed, since we're talking about 2 slices now.

We could also say that 6/8 slices were left. There's less than 1 pizza, but more than 0 pizzas. That's why we use a fraction.

Let's look at another example of how you can use fractions to show part of something.

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This coffee pot holds 4 cups of coffee. Right now it's full.

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We could write this as a fraction: 4/4. 4 cups are there, out of 4 cups total.

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As the morning goes on, the coffee pot gets emptier. Now there are 3 cups left, so it's 3/4 full.

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Now, it's 2/4 full.

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And now it's 1/4 full. We have less than 1 pot of coffee, but we still have more than 0 pots. We have a fraction of the pot left.

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Writing fractions

Every fraction has two parts: a top number and a bottom number. In math terms, these are called the numerator and the denominator. Don't worry too much about remembering those names. As long as you remember what each number means, you can understand any fraction.


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As you saw in the slideshow, the bottom number, or denominator, is the number of parts a whole is divided into. In our pizza example, we said each slice was 1/8 of the pizza. The denominator was 8, since the pizza was divided into 8 slices.


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The top number, or numerator, refers to a certain number of those parts. It lets us know how much we're talking about. Since we're talking about one slice of pizza, our numerator is 1.

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Let's look at another example. What if we divided the same pizza into 12 slices instead of 8? If we took one slice, that would be 1/12 of the pizza—1 slice out of the 12 total slices. No matter what fraction you're trying to write, you always write it the same way—with the number of parts on the bottom, and the parts you're referring to on top.