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In algebra, a symbol (usually a letter) standing in for an unknown numerical value in an equation. Commonly used variables include x and y (real-number unknowns), z (complex-number unknowns), t (time), r (radius), and s (arc length). Variables should be distinguished from coefficients, fixed values that multiply powers of variables in polynomials and algebraic equations. In the quadratic equationax2 + bx + c = 0, x is the variable, and a, b, and c are coefficients whose values must be specified to solve the equation. In translating word problems into algebraic equations, quantities to be determined can be represented by variables.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on variable, visit Britannica.com.