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As young math whipper-snappers, we added five 4s like this:
4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4
Then we learned a shorter way to write it, like this:
4 × 5
Repeated addition can be written as multiplication.
Now that we're all grown up in math, we've got a shorter way to write repeated multiplication, too. If we want to multiply 5 four times, we can write 5 × 5 × 5 × 5. But a shorter way is to use powers.
Powers, also known as exponents, are a short way to write long strings of multiplication.
Instead of writing 5 × 5 × 5 × 5, write 54 instead, which means "multiply four 5s together." We pronounce 54 as "5 to the fourth power."
Or how about this for a timesaver: isn't 109 easier to write than ?
Grab a magnifying glass and let's look closer at 109. The big number, 10, is the base. This is the number that's being multiplied a lot of times. The smaller number hiding in the upper right-hand corner is the exponent. It's a little shy, but it tells us how many of the base we're multiplying. The base is 10 and the exponent is 9, so we're multiplying nine 10s together. And that's one big number. Which is exactly what exponents are most useful for: writing very big numbers.