# Algebra, Subscripts

In my tutoring travels, I notice that some students get confused when they see subscripts, for example ${x}_{1}$. As you know, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet. This is almost always enough to represent variables in algebra, but if a formula indicates a pattern, then this is difficult to do using just letters.A subscript is just a way of showing different unknowns using the same letter. ${x}_{1}$ is a different unknown than ${x}_{2}$ but the same letter x is used – only the subscript has changed. The subscript number just indicates an order and is not used in calculations.So for example, the method for finding the average of a set of numbers is to add up all the numbers, then divide by the number of numbers you just added. To show this in a maths formula:Average = $\frac{{x}_{1}\hspace{0.33em}{+}\hspace{0.33em}{x}_{2}\hspace{0.33em}{+}\hspace{0.33em}{x}_{3}\hspace{0.33em}{+}\hspace{0.33em}\cdots\hspace{0.33em}{+}\hspace{0.33em}{x}_{n}}{n}$Here, the pattern is easy to see. Each number in the set of numbers is given a different subscript. Since the subscript starts at 1 and ends in n, you can immediately see that there are n numbers, which is why the formula shows us dividing by n. The symbol “⋯” is called an ellipsis and indicates that you just follow the indicated pattern until you get to the last number, ${x}_{n}$. For any specific set of numbers, you know what n is, but since the formula is to apply for any set of numbers, we need to use the unknown n.Sometimes, the subscript is called an index. So in more complex formulas, you may see  ${x}_{i}$ to represent any of the unknowns. So we could say that the average is the sum of all  ${x}_{i}$‘s divided by n.

Posted on Categories Algebra, Pre-VCE