If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Understanding division of fractions

Using a number line, we'll explain why multiplying by the inverse is the same as dividing. Created by Sal Khan.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

Let's think about what it means to take 8/3 and divide it by 1/3. So let me draw a number line here. So there is my number line. This is 0. This is 1. And this is 2. Maybe this is 3 right over here. And let me plot 8/3. So to do that, I just need to break up each whole into thirds. So let's see. That's 1/3, 2/3, 3/3, 4/3, 5/3, 6/3, 7/3, 8/3. So right over here. And then of course, 9/3 would get us to 3. So this right over here is 8/3. Now, one way to think about 8/3 divided by 3 is what if we take this length. And we say, how many jumps would it take to get there, if we're doing it in jumps of 1/3? Or essentially, we're breaking this up. If we were to break up 8/3 into sections of 1/3, how many sections would I have, or how many jumps would I have? Well, let's think about that. If we're trying to take jumps of 1/3, we're going to have to go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 jumps. So we could view this as-- let me do this in a different color. I'll do it in this orange. So we took these 8 jumps right over here. So we could view 8/3 divided by 1/3 as being equal to 8. Now, why does this actually make sense? Well, when you're dividing things into thirds, for every whole, you're now going to have 3 jumps. So whatever value you're trying to get to, you're going to have that number times 3 jumps. So another way of thinking about it is that 8/3 divided by 1/3 is the same thing as 8/3 times 3. And we could either write it like this. We could write times 3 like that. Or, if we want to write 3 as a fraction, we know that 3 is the same thing as 3/1. And we already know how to multiply fractions. Multiply the numerators. 8 times 3. So you have 8-- let me do that that same color. You have 8 times 3 in the numerator now, 8 times 3. And then you have 3 times 1 in the denominator. Which would give you 24/3, which is the same thing as 24 divided by 3, which once again is equal to 8. Now let's see if this still makes sense. Instead of dividing by 1/3, if we were to divide by 2/3. So let's think about what 8/3 divided by 2/3 is. Well, once again, this is like asking the question, if we wanted to break up this section from 0 to 8/3 into sections of 2/3, or jumps of 2/3, how many sections, or how many jumps, would I have to make? Well, think about it. 1 jump-- we'll do this in a different color. We could make 1 jump. No, that's the same color as my 8/3. We could do 1 jump. My computer is doing something strange. We could do 1 jump, 2 jumps, 3 jumps, and 4 jumps. So we see 8/3 divided by 2/3 is equal to 4. Now, does this make sense in this world right over here? Well, if we take 8/3 and we do the same thing, saying hey, look, dividing by a fraction is the same thing as multiplying by a reciprocal. Well, let's multiply by 3/2. Let's multiply by the reciprocal of 2/3. So we swap the numerator and the denominator. So we multiply it times 3/2. And then what do we get? In the numerator, once again, we get 8 times 3, which is 24. And in the denominator, we get 3 times 2, which is 6. So now we get 24 divided by 6 is equal to 4. Now, does it make sense that we got half the answer? If you think about the difference between what we did here and what we did here, these are almost the same, except here we really just didn't divide. Or you could say you divided by 1, while here you divided by 2. Well, does that make sense? Well, sure. Because here you jumped twice as far. So you had to take half the number of steps. And so in the first example, you saw why it makes sense to multiply by 3. When you divide by a fraction, for every whole, you're making 3 jumps. So that's why when you divide by this fraction, or whatever is in the denominator, you multiply by it. And now when the numerator is greater than 1, every jump you're going twice as far as you did in this first one right over here. And so you would have to do half as many jumps. Hopefully that makes sense. It's easy to think about just mechanically how to divide fractions. Taking 8/3 divided by 1/3 is the same thing as 8/3 times 3/1. Or 8/3 divided by 2/3 is the same thing as 8/3 times 3/2. But hopefully this video gives you a little bit more of an intuition of why this is the case.