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Difference of two


In mathematics, the difference of two

squares is a squared (multiplied by itself)
number subtracted from another squared
number. Every difference of squares may
be factored according to the identity

in elementary algebra.

The proof of the factorization identity is
straightforward. Starting from the left-
hand side, apply the distributive law to

By the commutative law, the middle two

terms cancel:


The resulting identity is one of the most

commonly used in mathematics. Among
many uses, it gives a simple proof of the
AM–GM inequality in two variables.
The proof just given indicates the scope
of the identity in abstract algebra: it will
hold in any commutative ring R.

Conversely, if this identity holds in a ring

R for all pairs of elements a and b of the
ring, then R is commutative. To see this,
apply the distributive law to the right-
hand side of the original equation and

and for this to be equal to , we

must have
for all pairs a, b of elements of R, so the
ring R is commutative.

Geometrical demonstrations
The difference of two
squares can also be
illustrated geometrically as
the difference of two square
areas in a plane. In the diagram, the
shaded part represents the difference
between the areas of the two squares,
i.e. . The area of the shaded part
can be found by adding the areas of the
two rectangles; ,
which can be factorized to
. Therefore

Another geometric proof proceeds as

follows: We start with the figure shown in
the first diagram below, a large square
with a smaller square removed from it.
The side of the entire square is a, and the
side of the small removed square is b.
The area of the shaded region is
. A cut is made, splitting the region into
two rectangular pieces, as shown in the
second diagram. The larger piece, at the
top, has width a and height a-b. The
smaller piece, at the bottom, has width a-
b and height b. Now the smaller piece
can be detached, rotated, and placed to
the right of the larger piece. In this new
arrangement, shown in the last diagram
below, the two pieces together form a
rectangle, whose width is and
whose height is . This rectangle's
area is . Since this
rectangle came from rearranging the
original figure, it must have the same
area as the original figure. Therefore,

Factorization of polynomials
and simplification of

The formula for the difference of two

squares can be used for factoring
polynomials that contain the square of a
first quantity minus the square of a
second quantity. For example, the
polynomial can be factored as

As a second example, the first two terms

of can be factored as
, so we have:
Moreover, this formula can also be used
for simplifying expressions:

Complex number case: sum

of two squares

The difference of two squares is used to

find the linear factors of the sum of two
squares, using complex number

For example, the complex roots of

can be found using difference of
two squares:

(since )
Therefore the linear factors are
and .

Since the two factors found by this

method are complex conjugates, we can
use this in reverse as a method of
multiplying a complex number to get a
real number. This is used to get real
denominators in complex fractions.[1]

Rationalising denominators

The difference of two squares can also

be used in the rationalising of irrational
denominators.[2] This is a method for
removing surds from expressions (or at
least moving them), applying to division
by some combinations involving square

For example: The denominator of

can be rationalised as follows:


Here, the irrational denominator  

has been rationalised to   .

Mental arithmetic

The difference of two squares can also

be used as an arithmetical short cut. If
you are multiplying two numbers whose
average is a number which is easily
squared the difference of two squares
can be used to give you the product of
the original two numbers.
For example:

Which means using the difference of two

squares   can be restated as

which is   .

Difference of two consecutive

perfect squares

The difference of two consecutive

perfect squares is the sum of the two
bases n and n+1. This can be seen as

Therefore the difference of two
consecutive perfect squares is an odd
number. Similarly, the difference of two
arbitrary perfect squares is calculated as

Therefore the difference of two even

perfect squares is a multiple of 4 and the
difference of two odd perfect squares is
a multiple of 8.

Vectors a (purple), b (cyan) and a + b (blue) are
shown with arrows

The identity also holds in inner product

spaces over the field of real numbers,
such as for dot product of Euclidean

The proof is identical. By the way,

assuming that a and b have equal norms
(which means that their dot squares are
equal), it demonstrates analytically the
fact that two diagonals of a rhombus are

Difference of two nth powers

If a and b are two elements of a

commutative ring R, then

Note that binomial coefficients do not

appear in the second factor, and the
summation stops at n-1, not n.

See also
Congruum, the shared difference of
three squares in arithmetic
Conjugate (algebra)

1. Complex or imaginary numbers, retrieved 22
December 2011
2. Multiplying Radicals, retrieved 22
December 2011

James Stuart Stanton: Encyclopedia of
Mathematics. Infobase Publishing,
2005, ISBN 9780816051243, p. 131
(online copy )
Alan S. Tussy, Roy David Gustafson:
Elementary Algebra, 5th ed.. Cengage
Learning, 2011, ISBN 9781111567668,
pp. 467 - 469 (online copy )

External links
difference of two squares at

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