Rational root theorem

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In algebra, the rational root theorem (or rational root test) states a constraint on rational solutions (or roots) of the polynomial equation

with integer coefficients.

If a0 and an are nonzero, then each rational solution x, when written as a fraction x = p/q in lowest terms (i.e., the greatest common divisor of p and q is 1), satisfies

Thus, a list of possible rational roots of the equation can be derived using the formula x = \pm \frac{p}{q}.

The rational root theorem is a special case (for a single linear factor) of Gauss's lemma on the factorization of polynomials. The integral root theorem is a special case of the rational root theorem if the leading coefficient an = 1.



Let P(x) = anxn + an-1xn-1 + ... + a1x + a0 for some a0, ..., anZ, and suppose P(p/q) = 0 for some coprime p, qZ:

Shifting the constant term and multiplying by qn,

Shifting the leading term and multiplying by qn,

All terms in these equations are integers, which implies p | a0qn and q | anpn. But p, qn and q, pn are coprime. Hence, by Euclid's lemma, p | a0 and q | an.[1]


For example, every rational solution of the equation

must be among the numbers symbolically indicated by

which gives the list of possible answers:

These root candidates can be tested using the Horner scheme (for instance). In this particular case there is exactly one rational root. If a root candidate does not satisfy the equation, it can be used to shorten the list of remaining candidates. For example, x = 1 does not satisfy the equation as the left hand side equals 1. This means that substituting x = 1 + t yields a polynomial in t with constant term 1, while the coefficient of t3 remains the same as the coefficient of x3. Applying the rational root theorem thus yields the following possible roots for t:


Root candidates that do not occur on both lists are ruled out. The list of rational root candidates has thus shrunk to just x = 2 and x = 2/3.

If a root r1 is found, the Horner scheme will also yield a polynomial of degree n − 1 whose roots, together with r1, are exactly the roots of the original polynomial. It may also be the case that none of the candidates is a solution; in this case the equation has no rational solution. If the equation lacks a constant term a0, then 0 is one of the rational roots of the equation.

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