by Dr. Carol JVF Burns (website creator)
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A very important type of equation is one of the form ‘$\,xy = 0\,$’.
This type of equation has zero on one side (usually the right-hand side),
and things being multiplied on the other side.

How can a sentence of this form be true?
To answer this question, consider the following.
Suppose I were to say to you:

I'm thinking of two numbers.
When I multiply these numbers together, I get zero.

Can you tell me anything about the numbers I'm thinking of?

The only way that numbers can multiply to give zero is if at least one of the numbers is zero:

$3\cdot 0 = 0$           $0\cdot\frac12 = 0$           $0\cdot 0 = 0$           $(3.7)\cdot 0 = 0$           and so on $\ldots$

That is, in order for the sentence ‘$\,xy = 0\,$’ to be true,
either $\,x\,$ must equal $\,0\,$, or $\,y\,$ must equal $\,0\,$, or both must equal zero.

The ‘official’ statement of this property is called the Zero Factor Law.
Don't worry right now if the formal statement below doesn't make sense to you.
You'll learn how to “translate” it in upcoming sections.

the Zero Factor Law
Let $\,x\,$ and $\,y\,$ be real numbers.
Then: $$ \cssId{s30}{xy = 0}\ \ \ \ \cssId{s31}{\text{is equivalent to}}\ \ \ \ \cssId{s32}{(x = 0\ \text{ or }\ y = 0)} $$

With this idea in mind, consider the equation:   ‘$\,x(x-1) = 0\,$’
The things being multiplied on the left-hand side are:   $\,x\,$   and   $\,x-1\,$
In order for the equation to be true, either:   $\,x = 0\,$   or   $\,x-1 = 0\,$
Consequently, the only numbers that make the equation true are $\,0\,$ and $\,1\,$.

NOTE:   When presented with an equation like   ‘$\,x(x-1) = 0\,$’   or   ‘$\,(x-2)(x+3) = 0\,$’,
many people's first reaction is to start multiplying out the left-hand side.
Multiplying out does absolutely no good (except perhaps giving practice with multiplying polynomials).
The correct thought process is:
Ah hah! I have things being MULTIPLIED that equal ZERO.
So... one of the things being multiplied must equal zero!

Determine the values of $\,x\,$ for which the sentence is true:
$(x-1)(x+3) = 0$
What makes $\,x-1\,$ equal to zero?   Answer: $\,1$
What makes $\,x + 3\,$ equal to zero?   Answer: $\,-3$
Thus, the values of $\,x\,$ for which the sentence is true are: $\,1, -3$
Master the ideas from this section
by practicing the exercise at the bottom of this page.

When you're done practicing, move on to:
Recognizing Zero and One


In the web exercise, you must:

For example, for this equation:
$(x-1)(x-1)(x+2) = 0$
You would input the answer:   1,1,-2

For more advanced students, a graph is displayed:
e.g., the equation $\,(x-1)(x-1)(x+2) = 0\,$
is optionally accompanied by the graph of $\,y = (x-1)(x-1)(x+2)\,$.
Notice that you are finding the place(s) where this graph crosses the $x$-axis.
Click the “show/hide graph” button if you prefer not to see the graph.

Determine the value(s) of $\,x\,$ for which the equation is true: