Commutative, Associative, and Distributive Properties


Associative Propertie

In mathematics, certain properties help simplify and solve complex equations and problems. Understanding these properties — commutative, associative, and distributive — not only builds foundational skills in algebra but also enhances problem-solving capabilities in various mathematical fields.

What is Commutative Property?

The commutative property states that the order in which two numbers are added or multiplied does not affect the result. This property applies to addition and multiplication but not to subtraction or division.

Example 1:

If a gardener plants 15 rose bushes in the morning and noon, does the order in which he counts them affect the total number of bushes planted?

15+12=27           12+15=27

The result shows the commutative property of addition, confirming the order does not matter.

Example 2:

In a chemistry lab, a technician needs to mix chemicals in two parts: one portion contains 5 liters of substance A and the other 3 liters of substance B. Does the order of mixing affect the total volume of the mixture?


Here, the multiplication of volumes shows that the order of factors does not change the product, illustrating the commutative property of multiplication.

What is the Associative Property?

The associative property states that when three or more numbers are added or multiplied, the grouping of the numbers (i.e., how the numbers are associated) does not change the sum or product.

Example 3:

Consider a scenario where a construction worker must stack blocks in three batches: 8 blocks, 14 blocks, and 6 blocks. If the blocks are grouped differently, does it affect the total count?

(8+14) + 6 = 8 + (14+6) = 28

This addition example shows that regardless of how the blocks are grouped, the total remains the same.

Example 4:

A baker is preparing cookies and needs to multiply the number of trays (4) by the number of cookies per tray (5), then by the number of batches (2):

(4 × 5) × 2 = 4 × (5 × 2) = 40

This multiplication scenario demonstrates the associative property, where the grouping of multiplication does not affect the outcome.

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What is Distributive Property?

The distributive property involves two operations, multiplication and addition or subtraction. It states that a number multiplied by the sum of two others can be broken down into individual multiplications added together.

Example 5:

If a farmer wants to buy 7 bags of feed, each containing either 9 or 5 kg of two different types of grains, how much total feed does the farmer buy?

7 × (9 + 5) = (7 × 9) + (7 × 5) = 63 + 35 =98

This shows how the distributive property helps simplify calculations by breaking them into smaller, manageable parts.

Importance of Properties

These algebraic properties are crucial as they:

  • Simplify complex problems and make calculations easier.
  • Help in solving equations by providing alternate methods of approach.
  • Facilitate mental math, improving computational fluency.

Complex Word Problems of Properties

Q1. If you receive $100 from one friend and $150 from another, in what order should you count to find the total amount received?

Ans: Using the commutative property of addition:

100 + 150 = 150 + 100 = 250

The order in which you count the money received from your friends does not matter; the total amount received will still be $250.

Q2. You buy 3 packs of 12 cookies, and 4 packs of 9 cookies each. If you calculate the total cookies by grouping them differently, does it affect the outcome?

Ans: Using the associative property of addition:

(3 × 12) + (4 × 9) = 36 + 36 = 72

Alternatively: 3×12 = 36       4×9=36

36 + 36 = 72

No matter how the groups of cookies are associated (grouped), the total number of cookies remains the same: 72.

Q3. A landscaper has 5 yards each requiring 4 new trees and 3 bushes. How many plants in total does he need using the distributive property to simplify his calculation?

Ans: Using the distributive property of multiplication over addition:

5 × (4 + 3) = 5 × 4 + 5 × 3 = 20 + 15 = 35

Thus, the landscaper needs a total of 35 plants for the 5 yards.

Q4. Using all three properties, determine the total if you multiply 5 by the sum of 8 and 12, then add 10, considering different groupings and orders.

Ans: Using the distributive, associative, and commutative properties:

5 × (8 + 12) + 10 = 5 × 20 + 10 = 100 + 10 = 110

Regardless of how you group or order the operations (for instance, adding 10 at the beginning, end, or multiplying first), you will end up with 110 due to the properties.

Q5. Solve for x given the equation: (𝑥+3) × 5 = 5 × x + 5 × 3

Ans: Simplify both sides of the equation: 5x+15=5x+15

This equation is true for all values of 𝑥 because both sides simplify to the same expression, indicating an identity. Hence, the solution is all real numbers for x. This also reflects the distributive property 5(x+3) simplifying to 5x+15 and being equivalent to adding 5x and 15 on the other side.

Conclusion: The commutative, associative, and distributive properties are not just theoretical concepts but practical tools in mathematics. They serve as the backbone for simplifying expressions and solving equations efficiently and effectively. By mastering these properties, one can enhance their mathematical problem-solving skills.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. What is the use of commutative, associative, and distributive properties?

A1: These properties simplify computations, help in algebraic manipulation to solve equations, and allow for flexibility in the arrangement and grouping of operations in arithmetic and algebra, making problem-solving more efficient.

Q2. How do you know if it's commutative or associative?


  • Commutative Property: This involves only two operands and states that changing the order of operations does not change the result. Applicable for addition and multiplication (e.g., a+b=b+a or ab=ba).
  • Associative Property: This involves three or more operands and indicates that how the operands are grouped does not change the result. Applicable for addition and multiplication (e.g., (a+b)+c=a+(b+c) or (ab)c=a(bc)).

Q3. What are the three laws of mathematics?

A3: This question could refer to various fundamental sets of laws, but broadly, in the context of arithmetic operations, the three key laws often highlighted are:

  • Commutative Law (order doesn’t matter)
  • Associative Law (grouping doesn’t matter)
  • Distributive Law (distributing a factor over addition or subtraction)

Q4. How to tell the difference between distributive and associative property?


  • Associative Property affects only one operation (either addition or multiplication) and focuses on the grouping of operations (e.g., (a+b)+c=a+(b+c)).
  • Distributive Property combines two different operations (usually multiplication and addition or subtraction) and describes how a factor can be distributed across terms inside parentheses (e.g., a(b+c)=ab+ac).


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