Math CentralQuandaries & Queries


Question from Maria, a student:

Why are fractions important for:
1) The study of Mathematics
2) Real life

Hi Maria,

To answer the first, without fractions we would only ever deal with whole numbers!* Part of the study of mathematics is in understanding the real number line. Some very neat mathematics is found when you start looking between the whole numbers. For example, you can ask questions like 'How close together on the number line can two fractions be?' There are some areas of study in mathematics that don't need fractions, but you can find plenty of areas that would be limited without them.

Fractions also show up in everyday life. Cooking is a good example - many recipes call for fractions of cups of some ingredient or another. Further, if you want to double or half a recipe you will probably need fraction arithmetic. And what if your recipe makes enough for 4, but you have to cook for 5 people? Knowing how to work with fractions will give you a way to figure out exactly how much you should increase your ingredients by.

Fractions are also useful if you are renting an apartment. I found this out when I made an agreement with my landlady to move in on the 12th of the month instead of the 1st. Since I wasn't going to be in the apartment for the full month, she agreed that I would only have to pay a portion of the month's rent, but the price she gave me didn't seem right. If the full month (30 days) cost $650, then how much rent should I pay for the part of the month I was living there (19 days)? Because I knew how to work with fractions, I could figure out what my rent should be, and I caught my landlady's mistake (and saved a little money).

Related to this example, what if you are paying a monthly bill for high speed Internet service, but the service goes down for five days during the month? Fractions can help you figure out how much of a refund the Internet service provider should give you.

I hope this gives you somewhere to start,

* This is not quite true, since there are plenty of numbers that are not 'fractions' or whole numbers. Do a search for 'transcendental numbers' if you are interested in learning more.

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