# What is Algebra?

Isn’t it funny that so many people talk about algebra, do algebra, or even fear algebra but have never thought about what it actually is? Well, let’s take care of that right now. (and for the record, I’m talking about elementary algebra not abstract algebra which is a completely awesome, but a different thing).

## Back to arithmetic

Think back to when you were learning adding and subtracting, multiplying and dividing – all that stuff. When you do arithmetic, you deal with specific numbers. In algebra, we shift that perspective into something more general and  more abstract. Instead of talking about specific numbers, we will start including variables, which represent either a specific unknown number or a general number that we could allow to be anything.

## Why would variables be useful?

Kaitlyn’s mom always gives $5 more to Kaitlyn than to her brother Alex. This means that if Alex gets$10, then Kaitlyn gets $15 right? In fact, we could keep doing this forever! If the mom wins the lotto and gives Alex$50,000, then Kaitlyn should be getting \$50,005. (Kind of weird but go with it.)
Variables can describe what is happening in general. If we let $x$ be the amount that Alex gets, then we know that $x+5$ is how much Kaitlyn will get.