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Help with Word Problems: Keywords

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

Having trouble figuring out word problems? Look for these keywords that will help you quickly and easily recognize what the problem is asking you to do: add, subtract, divide or multiply.

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    Many students struggle with word problems as it seems they are intended to confuse you. The key to solving them is to figure out what the word problem is asking you to do, and break it down into a simple equation. Use this guide to identify keyword or phrases that will clue you into what the problem is asking you to do.

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    Addition Keywords

    • altogether; There were two blue eggs and three green eggs. How many eggs were there altogether?
    • sum of; What is the sum of two plus two?
    • plus; What is the sum of two plus two?
    • total; What is the total of two plus two?
    • add; Add two and two.
    • together; Together, what two and two?
    • Combine; Combine two and two.

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    Subtraction Keywords

    • Take away; Take away four from five.
    • Subtract; Subtract four from five.
    • Minus; Five minus four is what?
    • From; Four from five is what?
    • Remain; How many remain after you take four from five?
    • Left; How many are left?
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    Multiplication Keywords

    • Product; What is the product of four and five?
    • Times; There are five times as many as there were.
    • Multiply; Multiply the numbers four and five.
    • As much (When preceded by a whole number, but not a fraction.);There was twice as much ice cream before you ate.
    • Some addition keywords are used in multiplication as well since multiplication is just another way of doing addition. For instance; There were four groups of fruit. There were 5 pieces in each group. How many were there altogether?

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    Division Keywords

    • Divided by; Four divided by two is what?
    • Divide; Divide four by two.
    • of (when preceded by a fraction); Half of four is what?
    • As much (When preceded by a fraction.); I would like half as much as she had.
    • Into; Four goes into twenty how many times?

    These are some of the most common math keywords used. Look for these keywords when you are trying to decided what the math question is actually asking you to do.