 Site Navigation                            Introduction to Absolute Value
Most people think of the absolute value as using the positive value of a number. For example, |-5| = 5 and |17| = 17. So what’s so hard about absolute value? Many times, difficulty occurs when working with the formal definition or description.

Sometimes absolute value of a number is described as the distance from the origin to the number on a number line.

The formal definition says:
If a is a real number, the absolute value of a, denoted as |a|, is The description of absolute value as a distance and the formal definition are both describing exactly what most people think of for absolute value.

Using distance as a way to describe absolute value just means that the answer will never be negative since distance is never going to be negative.

The formal definition is just a lengthy way of saying the following:
• If your number is positive or zero ( ) then use that number for your answer.
• If your number is negative ( ) then use the opposite of that number for your answer.

Let's Practice
1. |-12| =
2. Since the number inside the absolute value symbol is negative, we change the sign and the answer is 12.
3. |0| =
4. Since the number inside the absolute value symbol is greater than or equal to zero, we use the number as it is so the answer is 0.
5. |3 - p| =
6. Since the value of is negative, we change the sign of the quantity inside the absolute value sign and get . You could get a decimal approximation for this number, but most textbooks and teachers would prefer this exact answer.

Examples
Determine the absolute value of each expression. |4| What is your answer?  |-10| What is your answer?  |4 - p| What is your answer?  |-3 - 5| What is your answer?  |-3 + 5| What is your answer?  |-1| + |-4| What is your answer?  |(-1) + (-4)| What is your answer?  -2 - |-3| What is your answer?  -5|-2| What is your answer?  |-10| - |-7| What is your answer? S Taylor

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