**6.1 Greatest Common Factor and Factor by Grouping**

Topics covered in this section are:

- Find the greatest common factor of two or more expressions
- Factor the greatest common factor from a polynomial
- Factor by grouping

**6.1.1 Find the Greatest Common Factor of Two or More Expressions**

Earlier we multiplied factors together to get a product. Now, we will reverse this process; we will start with a product and then break it down into its factors. Splitting a product into factors is called **factoring**.

We have learned how to factor numbers to find the least common multiple (LCM) of two or more numbers. Now we will factor expressions and find the **greatest common factor** of two or more expressions. The method we use is similar to what we used to find the LCM.

**GREATEST COMMON FACTOR**

The **greatest common factor** (GCF) of two or more expressions is the largest expression that is a factor of all the expressions.

We summarize the steps we use to find the greatest common factor.

**HOW TO: Find the greatest common factor (GCF) of two expressions.**

- Factor each coefficient into primes. Write all variables with exponents in expanded form.
- List all factors—matching common factors in a column. In each column, circle the common factors.
- Bring down the common factors that all expressions share.
- Multiply the factors.

The next example will show us the steps to find the greatest common factor of three expressions.

**Example 1**

Find the greatest common factor of $21x^{3}$, $9x^{2}$, $15x$.

**Solution**

Factor each coefficient into primes and write the variables with exponents in expanded form. Circle the common factors in each column. Bring down the common factors. | |

Multiply the factors. | GCF = $3x$ |

The GCF of $21x^{3}$, $9x^{2}$, and $15x$ is $3x$. |

**6.1.2 Factor the Greatest Common Factor from a Polynomial**

It is sometimes useful to represent a number as a product of factors, for example, $12$ as $2 \cdot 6$ or $3 \cdot 4$. In algebra, it can also be useful to represent a polynomial in factored form. We will start with a product, such as $3x^{2}+15x$, and end with its factors $3x(x+5)$. To do this we apply the Distributive Property “in reverse.”

We state the Distributive Property here just as you saw it in earlier chapters and “in reverse.”

**DISTRIBUTIVE PROPERTY**

If $a$, $b$, and $c$ are real numbers, then

$a(b+c)=ab+ac$ and $ab+ac=a(b+c)$

The form on the left is used to multiply. The form on the right is used to factor.

So how do you use the Distributive Property to factor a polynomial? You just find the GCF of all the terms and write the polynomial as a product!

**Example 2**

Factor: $8m^{3}-12m^{2}n+20mn^{2}$

**Solution**

Step 1. Find the GCF of all the terms of the polynomial. | Find the GCF of $8m^{3}$, $12m^{2}n$, $20mn^{2}$ | |

Step 2. Rewrite each term as a product using the GCF. | Rewrite $8m^{3}$, $12m^{2}n$, $20mn^{2}$ as products of their GCF, $4m$. $8m^{3}= \textcolor{red}{4m} \cdot 2m^{3}$ $12m^{2}n= \textcolor{red}{4m} \cdot 3mn$ $20mn^{2}= \textcolor{red}{4m} \cdot 5n^{2}$ | $8m^{3}-12m^{2}n+20mn^{2}$ $\textcolor{red}{4m} \cdot 2m^{2}-\textcolor{red}{4m} \cdot 3mn+\textcolor{red}{4m} \cdot 5n^{2}$ |

Step 3. Use the “reverse” Distributive Property to factor the expression. | $4m(2m^{2}-3mn+5n^{2})$ | |

Step 4. Check by multiplying the factors. | $4m(2m^{3}-3mn+5n^{2})$ $4m \cdot 2m^{2}-4m \cdot 3mn+4m \cdot 5n^{2}$ $8m^{3}-12m^{2}n+20mn^{2}$ |

**HOW TO: Factor the greatest common factor from a polynomial.**

- Find the GCF of all the terms of the polynomial.
- Rewrite each term as a product using the GCF.
- Use the “reverse” Distributive Property to factor the expression.
- Check by multiplying the factors.

**FACTOR AS A NOUN AND A VERB**

We use “factor” as both a noun and a verb:

Noun: | $7$ is a factor of $14$ |

Verb: | factor $3$ from $3a+3$ |

**Example 3 **

Factor: $5x^{3}-25x^{2}$

**Solution**

Find the GCF of $5x^{3}$ $25x^{2}$ | |

GCF $=5x^{2}$ | |

$5x^{3}-25x^{2}$ | |

Rewrite each term. | $\textcolor{red}{5x^{2}} \cdot x – \textcolor{red}{5x^{2}} \cdot 5$ |

Factor the GCF. | $5x^{2}(x-5)$ |

Check: | $5x^{2}(x-5)$ $5x^{2} \cdot x – 5x^{2} \cdot 5$ $5x^{3}-25x^{2} \ \checkmark$ |

**Example 4 **

Factor: $8x^{3}y-10x^{2}y^{2}+12xy^{3}$.

**Solution**

Write out the factors of each term to find the GCF. | |

GCF $=2xy$ | |

Rewrite each term using the GCF, $2xy$. | $8x^{3}y-10x^{2}y^{2}+12xy^{3}$ $\textcolor{red}{2xy} \cdot 4x^{2} – \textcolor{red}{2xy} \cdot 5xy + \textcolor{red}{2xy} \cdot 6y^{2}$ |

Factor the GCF. | $2xy(4x^{2}-5xy+6y^{2})$ |

Check: | $2xy(4x^{2}-5xy+6y^{2})$ $2xy \cdot 4x^{2} – 2xy \cdot 5xy + 2xy \cdot 6y^{2}$ $8x^{3}y-10x^{2}y^{2}+12xy^{3} \ \checkmark$ |

When the leading coefficient is negative, we factor the negative out as part of the GCF.

**Example 5 **

Factor $-4a^{3}+36a^{2}-8a$.

**Solution**

The leading coefficient is negative, so the GCF will be negative.

$-4a^{3}+36a^{2}-8a$ | |

Rewrite each term using the GCF, $-4a$. | $\textcolor{red}{-4a} \cdot a^{2} – \textcolor{red}{(-4a)} \cdot 9a + \textcolor{red}{(-4a)} \cdot 2$ |

Factor the GCF. | $-4a(a^{2}-9a+2)$ |

Check: | $-4a(a^{2}-9a+2)$ $-4a \cdot a^{2} – (-4a) \cdot 9a + (-4a) \cdot 2$ $-4a^{3}+36a^{2}-8a \ \checkmark$ |

So far our greatest common factors have been monomials. In the next example, the greatest common factor is a binomial.

**Example 6 **

Factor $3y(y+7)-4(y+7)$.

**Solution**

The GCF is the binomials $y+7$.

$3y\textcolor{red}{(y+7)} – 4\textcolor{red}{(y+7)}$ | |

Factor the GCF, $y+7$. | $(y+7)(3y+4)$ |

Check on your own by multiplying. |

**6.1.3 Factor by Grouping**

Sometimes there is no common factor of all the terms of a polynomial. When there are four terms we separate the polynomial into two parts with two terms in each part. Then look for the GCF in each part. If the polynomial can be factored, you will find a common factor emerges from both parts. Not all polynomials can be factored. Just like some numbers are prime, some polynomials are prime.

**Example 7 **

Factor by grouping: $xy+3y+2x+6$.

**Solution**

Step 1. Group terms with common factors. | Is there a greatest common factor of all four terms? No, so let’s separate the first two terms from the second two terms. | $xy+3y+2x+6$ $\underbrace{xy+3y} \underbrace{+2x+6}$ |

Step 2. Factor out the common factors in each group. | Factor the GCF from the first two terms. Factor the GCF from the second two terms. | $\underbrace{y(x+3)} +2x+6$ $y(x+3)\underbrace{+2(x+3)}$ |

Step 3. Factor the common factor from the expression. | Notice that each term has a common factor of $(x+3)$. Factor out the common factor. | $y\textcolor{red}{(x+3)}+2\textcolor{red}{(x+3)}$ $(x+3)(y+2)$ |

Step 4. Check. | Multiply $(x+3)(y+2)$. Is the product the original expression? | $(x+3)(y+2)$ $xy+2x+3y+6$ $xy+3y+2x+6 \ \checkmark$ |

**HOW TO: Factor by grouping.**

- Group terms with common factors.
- Factor out the common factor in each group.
- Factor the common factor from the expression.
- Check by multiplying the factors.

**Example 8 **

Factor by grouping:

- $x^{2}+3x-2x-6$
- $6x^{2}-3x-4x+2$

**Solution**

**Part 1 **

There is no GCF in all four terms. | $x^{2}+3x-2x-6$ |

Separate into two parts. | $\underbrace{x^{2}+3x} \underbrace{-2x-6}$ |

Factor the GCF from both parts. Be careful with the signs when factoring the GCF from the last two terms. | $x(x+3)-2(x+3)$ |

Factor out the common factor. | $(x+3)(x-2)$ |

Check on your own by multiplying. |

**Part 2**

There is no GCF in all four terms. | $6x^{2}-3x-4x+2$ |

Separate into two parts. | $\underbrace{6x^{2}-3x} \underbrace{-4x+2}$ |

Factor the GCF from both parts. | $3x(2x-1)-2(2x-1)$ |

Factor out the common factor. | $(2x-1)(3x-2)$ |

Check on your own by multiplying. |

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*Marecek, L., & Mathis, A. H. (2020). Greatest Common Factor and Factoring by Grouping. In Intermediate Algebra 2e. OpenStax. https://openstax.org/books/intermediate-algebra-2e/pages/6-1-greatest-common-factor-and-factor-by-grouping*.*License: CC BY 4.0. Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/intermediate-algebra-2e/pages/1-introduction*