Subtraction is one of the four basic arithmetic operations. (The other basic operations are addition, multiplication, and division.)

It helps us find answers to questions such as the following:

How many are left? or How much is left?

How many more (or fewer) are there? or How much more (or less) is there?

How many more are needed? or How much more is needed?


In the context of subtraction problems, a remainder is the number left after something is subtracted or "taken away." It is more or less the same as a "difference," which is addressed later.

Josh raises ponies to sell. He had 15 ponies and sold 6 of them. How many ponies does he have left?
15 - 6 = 9
Josh has a 9 ponies left (a remainder of 9).


In some subtraction problems we need to compare two numbers to find out how much larger or smaller a number is compared to another. The answer is called a difference.

David and William went tuna fishing. David's largest catch weighed 65 pounds. William's largest weighed 58 pounds. How much heavier was David's largest catch?
65 - 58 = 7
Thus, David's largest catch weighed 7 pounds more (the difference was 7).

Missing addend

Subtraction is one way to find a missing addend, or how many more of something must be added to have the desired number.

Mary has 23 eggs. She wants to color 36 eggs for the egg hunt. How many more eggs does she need?
23 + ? = 36, so 36 - 23 = 13
Mary needs 13 more eggs (the missing addend is 13).

See also difference, missing addend, operation, remainder.

Related words subtract