Polynomial Remainder Theorem

In algebra, the Polynomial Remainder Theorem states that the remainder upon dividing any polynomial $P(x)$ by a linear polynomial $x-a$, both with complex coefficients, is equal to $P(a)$.


By polynomial division with dividend $P(x)$ and divisor $x-a$, that exist a quotient $Q(x)$ and remainder $R(x)$ such that \[P(x) = (x-a) Q(x) + R(x)\] with $\deg R(x) < \deg (x-a)$. We wish to show that $R(x)$ is equal to the constant $P(a)$. Because $\deg (x-a) = 1$, $\deg R(x) < 1$. Therefore, $\deg R(x) = 0$, and so the $R(x)$ is a constant.

Let this constant be $r$. We may substitute this into our original equation and rearrange to yield \[r = P(x) - (x-a) Q(x).\] When $x = a$, this equation becomes $r = P(a)$. Hence, the remainder upon diving $P(x)$ by $x-a$ is equal to $P(a)$. $\square$


The strategy used in the above proof can be generalized to divisors with degree greater than $1$. A more general method, with any dividend $P(x)$ and divisor $D(x)$, is to write $R(x) = D(x) Q(x) - P(x)$, and then substitute the zeroes of $D(x)$ to eliminate $Q(x)$ and find values of $R(x)$. Example 2 showcases this strategy.


Here are some problems with solutions that utilize the Polynomial Remainder Theorem and its generalization.

Example 1

What is the remainder when $x^2+2x+3$ is divided by $x+1$?

Solution: Although one could use long or synthetic division, the Polynomial Remainder Theorem provides a significantly shorter solution. Note that $P(x) = x^2 + 2x + 3$, and $x-a = x+1$. A common mistake is to forget to flip the negative sign and assume $a = 1$, but simplifying the linear equation yields $a = -1$. Thus, the answer is $P(-1)$, or $(-1)^2 + 2(-1) + 3$, which is equal to $2$. $\square$.

More examples

See also