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Learn How to Subtract Integers in Five Minutes

Updated on October 1, 2011

Subtracting Integers is Hard!

So here's the deal. Subtracting integers gives a lot of people a really hard time. For some reason, this is a topic that isn't covered very well by most Algebra 1 instructors because it's taken for granted as a skill. When teachers and instructors do take special time out to spend on teaching students how to subtract integers, it usually involves some complicated set of rules that tries to get students to memorize every possible case. This is a very ineffective strategy for teaching students how to subtract integers. There's a better way, and you can learn it here inside of five minutes.

First, we're going to make sure you know how to add integers. There's a short section that will show you how to do this, along with a short quiz to make sure you know what you're doing before you move ahead.

Second, we're going to show you a simple trick for subtracting integers. This is so simple it's ridiculous. There's also a short quiz where you can test out your new skillset for subtracting integers at the end.

Please vote and let us know if this helped you or not, and comment to let us know what we could do to improve!

The Official Integer Banner

This is the official banner of people who are confused by integers because they were not taught the easy way to add and subtract integers.
This is the official banner of people who are confused by integers because they were not taught the easy way to add and subtract integers.

Can You Add Integers?

Before you can learn to subtract integers using our super secret awesome sauce, you've got to know how to add integers. Adding integers is really easy. There are two cases: if the signs are the same, and if the signs are different.

If the signs are the same, you just add the two numbers together and keep the sign. For example, 3 + 9 = 12, and -4 + -3 = -7. It's like adding 3 apples to 9 apples, or 4 pears to 3 pears. This is pretty simple.

If the signs are different, then you subtract the two numbers and keep the sign of the largest number. So if you had -4 + 7, first you would do 7 - 4 to get 3. Then you'd keep it as a positive 3 since the largest number of 7 or -4 is positive. For another example, to do -8 + 2 you'll subtract 8 - 2 to get 6, and since the larger of the two numbers is negative, your final answer is -6.

You need to make sure that you have this down pat before we look at the easy way to subtract integers. Take this short quiz below to see if you've got this.

Adding Integers Quiz

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The Real Secret to Subtracting Integers

This is kind of cheap. Okay, I'll be honest. This is really cheap. If you know how to add integers, then you already know how to subtract integers. The reason why is that you can change a subtraction problem into an addition problem if you change the sign of the second number. Here are some examples.

8 - 4 becomes 8 + -4, and you get 4.

12 - (-3) becomes 12 + 3, and you get 15.

-4 - 6 becomes -4 + -6, and you get -10.

To change a subtraction problem into an addition problem, do the following two steps:

Step 1: Change the - to a +.

Step 2: Change the sign of the second number.

I have absolutely no idea why this isn't taught in every Algebra 1 class in the world because it teaches you how to subtract integers without learning any new skills. Below we've created a short quiz for you to test out your new integer-subtracting skills.

A Visual of This Method

These are the two steps you need to change a subtraction problem into an addition problem.
These are the two steps you need to change a subtraction problem into an addition problem.

Subtracting Integers Quiz AKA The Final Boss

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Let Us Know If This Helped You!

Did This Information Help You Subtract Integers?

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    • profile image

      Elizabeth 

      2 years ago

      This is so hard and my teacher gave us a song to learn how to do it. I love this site for actually teaching me how to do it.

    • profile image

      Linda 

      4 years ago

      Thank you for your help.

    • profile image

      kim 

      4 years ago

      I wish you were my teacher.

    • profile image

      grace 

      4 years ago

      I.LOVE.U

    • profile image

      kendrea 

      5 years ago

      it was very helpful the reason I got on this web site is because I got a BIG test coming up on Friday, October 7,2013

    • profile image

      elida 

      5 years ago

      thanks for the help

    • profile image

      kyky 

      5 years ago

      lol i was sick the day we did this at school the next day i was so confused but now i get thnks website

    • profile image

      Jennifer 

      5 years ago

      OMG!! I have been struggling for 2 semesters of remedial math and these darn integers have been the root of my problem in most of algebra!! Thank you so much for taking the time to explain it like we are 5! You really really really HELPED ME!

    • profile image

      Nia 

      5 years ago

      THANK YOU SO MUCH

    • profile image

      Maryam 

      6 years ago

      THANKS I REALLY UNDERSTAND

    • profile image

      Savannah B. 

      6 years ago

      This is an awesome site!! I was alittle wary on how to do this but you cleared it up a bunch!

    • profile image

      dante 

      6 years ago

      this really helped im in 6th grade and i have FINALS tomorrow:(.....and like a quarter of it was adding and sub integers.so thnkz XD!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      awesome 

      6 years ago

      Omg this helped me so much with subtracting!

    • profile image

      Hiru 

      6 years ago

      I had so much trouble on integers but this site helped me a lot

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