# Explainer: One-step Inequalities: Multiplication or Division

In this explainer, we will learn how to solve one-step linear inequalities by multiplication or division.

An inequality is a mathematical sentence containing an inequality symbol it shows that the value of one expression is greater than another, while an equation states the equality of two expressions. When a variable is involved in an inequality, solving an inequality means finding the range of values that the variable can take to make the inequality true. This range of values is given as an inequality in the form where is a number.

We are going to learn in this lesson how to solve inequalities of the form , where and are numbers.

Let us start with . We can use the balance scale model here, interpreting this inequality by saying that is lighter than 15. This means that the side with is higher on the scale because it is lighter.

It makes sense here to divide the content of each scale side in three, so that we have on one side and on the other. So, we have

that is,

If we have a fraction of in the inequality, for instance, , then we can simply multiply both sides by 5 to solve for :

that is,

Let us solve the first question.

### Example 1: Solving an Inequality by Multiplying or Dividing

Solve the following inequality:

To solve this inequality, we multiply both sides by 0.8 in order to have on its own on one side. We find

that is,

We want to have on the left-hand side of the inequality, so we write the equivalent inequality to , which is simply saying that if is greater than or equal to , then is less than or equal to :

We can check that our answer is correct by first checking that when , then . Then, using a value of that is less than , say , we plug it into . We find that , which is less than . Therefore, the inequality is true with this value, so our answer is correct.

Now, let us consider the inequality . Dividing our “weights” of and 28 by a negative number, , does not make any sense. So, we have a situation here where we cannot apply our balance-scale method. Instead, we are going to look at the meaning of an inequality on a number line.

Let us go back to a simple inequality, for instance, . Its solutions can be represented on a number line: it is all the values greater than or equal to 2.

Knowing this, what can be said about the opposite of , that is, ? For this, recall that the opposite of a number is the number located on the number line at the same distance to zero, but on the other side of zero. Therefore, it is found by reflecting it in the origin. Here, we do not want to reflect a point in the origin but a ray. For this, we can take the endpoint of the ray (2) and another of its points, say 6, and reflect them in the origin: we find and . The reflected ray starts at and goes toward minus infinity. We see that reflecting our ray in the origin can be thought of as flipping it over the origin.

The blue ray represents all the values of that satisfy the inequality and the pink ray represents all the values of the opposite of , . Looking at the pink ray, we see that all values of are less than or equal to , which is written as .

With this example, we see that when we multiply both sides of by , which is equivalent to finding where the values of the opposite of lie, the inequality symbol changes from “greater than or equal to” to “less than or equal to.” Visualizing the process on the number line makes it clear: values of greater than 2 make values of less than .

Let us now consider the inequality . Its solution can be represented with the blue ray on the diagram.

Now, we want to find where the values of , the opposite of , lie. Remember that finding the opposite is reflecting in the origin, which can be thought of as flipping over the origin. We find here a ray whose endpoint is 3 and that goes toward minus infinity: it is where the values of lie.

We find here again that multiplying both sides of by leads to changing the inequality symbol (here from greater than to less than). We find that

Let us now look at

We can split our process in two stages; first, we multiply both sides of the inequality by , meaning that the inequality sign will change from “greater than” to “less than.” We find

that is,

Then, we divide both sides by 9:

that is,

Both stages can be done in one by considering that whenever we multiply or divide both sides of an inequality by a negative number, the orientation of the inequality symbol changes. We would then go from to

These results can be summarized in the multiplication and division rule for inequalities.

### Multiplication and Division Rule for Inequalities

An inequality still holds true when both sides of the inequality are multiplied or divided by the same positive number.

If and , then and .

When both sides of an inequality are multiplied or divided by the same negative number, then the inequality symbol needs to change its orientation for the inequality to still hold true.

If and (which means that is negative), then

and

Let us now look at some examples.

### Example 2: Solving an Inequality by Multiplying or Dividing

Which of the following inequalities is equivalent to ?

To solve this inequality, we need to divide both sides by to get on its own on one side.

Since is a negative number, the inequality symbol will change its orientation when we divide both sides by . We find

that is,

Now, we can check our answer. First, we check that for . Second, we take a value greater than , for instance, 1, and check that the inequality is true when we plug in this value. We find that is true; hence, our answer is correct.

### Example 3: Solving an Inequality by Multiplying or Dividing

If , then .

To solve this inequality, we need to divide both sides by to get on its own on one side.

Since is a negative number, the inequality symbol will change its orientation when we divide both sides by . We find

that is,

Now, we can check our answer. First, we check that for . Second, we take a value greater than , for instance, 1, and check that the inequality is true when we plug in this value. We find that is true; hence, our answer is correct.

In the next examples, we are going to learn how to solve two-step inequalities.

### Example 4: Solving a Two-Step Inequality by Multiplying or Dividing

Solve the following inequality:

To solve this inequality, we need to split the process into two steps. First, we isolate the -term, and for this we subtract 1 from each side. We get

which is

Second, we multiply both sides by 5 in order to have on its own on one side. We find

that is,

Now, we can check our answer. First, we check that for . Second, we take a value less than 25, for instance, 5, and check that the inequality is true when we plug in this value. We find that is true; hence, our answer is correct.

### Example 5: Solving a Two-Step Inequality by Multiplying or Dividing

Solve the inequality for .

To solve this inequality, we need to split the process into two steps. First, we isolate the -term, and for this we subtract 5 from each side. We get

which is

Second, we multiply both sides by in order to have on its own on one side. As is a negative number, we need to change the orientation of the inequality symbol. We find

that is,

Now, we can check our answer. First, we check that for . Second, we take a value less than , for instance, , and check that the inequality is true when we plug in this value. We find that is true; hence, our answer is correct.

### Key Points

1. An inequality still holds true when both sides of the inequality are multiplied or divided by the same positive number.
If and is positive, then and .
2. When both sides of an inequality are multiplied or divided by the same negative number, then the inequality symbol needs to change its orientation for the inequality to still hold true.
If and (which means that is negative), then and
3. To solve an inequality of the form , we first use the addition and subtraction rule for inequalities to have the -term on its own on one side: and then we use the multiplication and division rule to have only on one side, keeping in mind that if a is positive, the inequality symbol will stay the same, while if it is negative, it will change its orientation.