Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

How can we prove that a polynomial only has rational roots when we know the coefficients and the degree? For instance, in illustration, how would we show this for $x^8 +2x^7+3x^6+5x^5+4x^4+3x^3+2x^2+x-1$?

share|cite|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Hint: By the Rational Root Theorem, the only rationals that could conceivably be roots are $\pm 1$. Plug in. Neither works.

In general, if we have a polynomial $P(x)$ with integer coefficients, where $P(x)=a_0x^n+\cdots +a_n$, where $a_0\ne 0$, $a_n\ne 0$, then the only conceivable rational roots of $P(x)$ are of the form $\dfrac{a}{b}$, where $a$ is a divisor (possibly negative) of $a_n$ and $b$ is a positive divisor of $a_0$.

So there is a finite list of candidates.

If we try them all, and nothing works, there are no rational roots. That's what happened in our concrete case.

To check whether there are any non-rational roots, find all the rational roots. We do have to check for multiple roots, so there is a need for some care.

For example, we can use the Rational Root Theorem to show that the only rational root of $x^3-3x^2+3x-1$ is $1$. However, since our polynomial is $(x-1)^3$, the number $1$ is a triple root of the polynomial.

If the sum of the number of rational roots (counting multiple roots according to their multiplicity) is not $n$, then there are (possibly non-real) roots that are not rational.

Remark: The Rational Root Theorem is more useful in "made up" problems (homework, tests) than in "real life." Often in a problem, when you have say a cubic, and you need the roots, the numbers will have been chosen so that there is a reasonably simple rational root. The same is often true of quadratics in high school. Not so much later, since the Quadratic Formula gives a general procedure for solving quadratic equations.

share|cite|improve this answer
First of all, I don't know what the rational roots theorem is. Second of all, how would you prove this generally? I have a few more examples that I need to prove and I don't know how to begin. – afedder Dec 7 '12 at 2:00
I have added a link to the Rational Root Theorem. Perhaps after a working for a bit you can add one or even two of the polynomials that are giving you trouble. I will try to look out for it, certainly will if I get a message. – André Nicolas Dec 7 '12 at 2:07
Can add a proof of Rational Root Theorem if you are interested in the proof, but probably you can find one, by searching or by hinking about it. If you want to prove it, assume the root has shape $a/b$ where $a$ and $b$ have no factor $\gt 1$ in common, and multiply by $b^n$ to clear denominators. – André Nicolas Dec 7 '12 at 2:11
So each rational root ONLY depends on $a_0$ and $a_n$? – afedder Dec 7 '12 at 2:19
Knowing $a_0$ and $a_n$ brings you down to a finite, usually small, list of candidates. Nothing else can work, but most, maybe all, the candidates will usually not work either. Whether a candidate works or not is very influenced by the other coefficients $a_i$. In your example, the only rationals that could possibly be roots were $1$ and $-1$. Plugging in, we see neither works, so the polynomial of your post has no rational roots. – André Nicolas Dec 7 '12 at 2:31

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.