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In multiplication, one of two or more numerical or algebraic components of a product. A whole number's factors are the whole numbers that divide evenly into it (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12 are factors of 12). To factor a counting number means to break it down into its prime number factors. To factor a polynomial is to find its prime polynomial factors, a basic procedure for solving algebraic equations. According to the fundamental theorem of arithmetic, the prime factorization of any number or polynomial is unique.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on factor, visit Britannica.com.