Go to content
IMPORTANT: The multiple MathsNet domain names will soon be rationalised to just the single domain name of www.mathsnet.com. You are currently using www.mathnetap.com which will become unavailable soon. Please update your favourites/bookmarks to www.mathsnet.com as soon as possible. mathnetap
A surd is a number written in a form that includes a square root. For example \sqrt 3 , 1+\sqrt 2 and 7\sqrt 5 are all examples of surds. A surd is a useful way of giving a value in a precise, or exact, form where there is no need to be concerned with accuracy or decimal places, and therefore a calculator is not needed.
Examination papers often use square numbers in questions on surds, so look out for these numbers \qquad \qquad \qquad 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81, 100, 121, 144, 169, 196, 225, 256...
and simple multiples of them.


The expression \sqrt{x} means the positive square root of x and is called a surd.
Surds such as \sqrt{2} can be evaluated on a calculator, for example \sqrt{2} = 1.414... \, \,, however this immediately introduces the issue of accuracy. Instead of evaluating, we use some algebraic properties of surds in order to simplify them, for example factors that are square numbers themselves.
Remember the all-important rules:
  • \sqrt{ab} = \sqrt{a}\sqrt{b}
  • \displaystyle \sqrt{\frac{a}{b} } =\frac{ \sqrt{a} }{\sqrt{b} }
Be aware also of these common mistakes when a and b are both positive:
  • \sqrt{a + b} \ne \sqrt{a} + \sqrt{b}
  • \sqrt{a - b} \ne \sqrt{a} - \sqrt{b}

Software/Applets used on this page

This page uses jsMath
You can get a better display of the maths by downloading special TeX fonts from jsMath. In the meantime, we will do the best we can with the fonts you have, but it may not be pretty and some equations may not be rendered correctly.


square root

of a number n, that value that when squared equals n


A number containing one or more irrational square roots.


The union of two sets A and B is the set containing all the elements of A and B.

Full Glossary List

This question appears in the following syllabi:

SyllabusModuleSectionTopicExam Year
AP Calculus AB (USA)1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
AP Calculus BC (USA)1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
AQA A-Level (UK - Pre-2017)C1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
AQA AS Maths 2017Pure MathsAlgebraSurds-
AQA AS/A2 Maths 2017Pure MathsAlgebraSurds-
CCEA A-Level (NI)C1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
Edexcel A-Level (UK - Pre-2017)C1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
Edexcel AS Maths 2017Pure MathsAlgebraic ExpressionsSurds-
Edexcel AS/A2 Maths 2017Pure MathsAlgebraic ExpressionsSurds-
I.B. Higher Level2Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
I.B. Standard Level1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
Methods (UK)M1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
OCR A-Level (UK - Pre-2017)C1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
OCR AS Maths 2017Pure MathsIndices and SurdsSurds-
OCR MEI AS Maths 2017Pure MathsSurds and IndicesSurds-
OCR-MEI A-Level (UK - Pre-2017)C1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
Pre-U A-Level (UK)1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-
Universal (all site questions)AAlgebra and FunctionsSurds-
WJEC A-Level (Wales)C1Algebra and FunctionsSurds-