In algebra, the partial fraction decomposition or partial fraction expansion of a rational function (that is a fraction such that the numerator and the denominator are both polynomials) is the operation that consists in expressing the fraction as a sum of a polynomial (possibly zero) and one or several fractions with a simpler denominator.
In symbols, one can use partial fraction expansion to change a rational fraction in the form
where ƒ and g are polynomials, into an expression of the form
where gj (x) are polynomials that are factors of g(x), and are in general of lower degree. Thus, the partial fraction decomposition may be seen as the inverse procedure of the more elementary operation of addition of rational fractions, which produces a single rational fraction with a numerator and denominator usually of high degree. The full decomposition pushes the reduction as far as it can go: in other words, the factorization of g is used as much as possible. Thus, the outcome of a full partial fraction expansion expresses that fraction as a sum of a polynomial and one of several fractions, such that:
the numerator is a polynomial of smaller degree than this irreducible polynomial.
As factorization of polynomials may be difficult, a coarser decomposition is often preferred, which consists of replacing factorization by square-free factorization. This amounts to replace "irreducible" by "square-free" in the preceding description of the outcome.
Using this idea inductively we can write R(x) as a sum with denominators powers of irreducible polynomials. To take this further, if required, write:
as a sum with denominators powers of F and numerators of degree less than F, plus a possible extra polynomial. This can be done by the Euclidean algorithm, polynomial case. The result is the following theorem:
Theorem — Let ƒ and g be nonzero polynomials over a field K. Write g as a product of powers of distinct irreducible polynomials :
There are (unique) polynomials b and aij with deg aij < deg pi such that
If deg ƒ < deg g, then b = 0.
Therefore, when the field K is the complex numbers, we can assume that each pi has degree 1 (by the fundamental theorem of algebra) the numerators will be constant. When K is the real numbers, some of the pi might be quadratic, so, in the partial fraction decomposition, a quotient of a linear polynomial by a power of a quadratic might occur.
In the preceding theorem, one may replace "distinct irreducible polynomials" by "pairwise coprime polynomials that are coprime with their derivative". For example, the pi may be the factors of the square-free factorization of g. When K is the field of the rational numbers, as it is typically the case in computer algebra, this allows to replace factorization by greatest common divisor to compute the partial fraction decomposition.
Theorem — Let ƒ and g be nonzero polynomials over a field K. Write g as a product of powers of pairwise coprime polynomials which have no multiple root in an algebraically closed field:
There are (unique) polynomials b and cij with deg cij < deg pi such that
where denotes the derivative of
This reduces the computation of the antiderivative of a rational function to the integration of the last sum, which is called the logarithmic part, because its antiderivative is a linear combination of logarithms. In fact, we have
There are various methods to compute above decomposition. The one that is the simplest to describe is probably the so-called Hermite's method. As the degree of cij is bounded by the degree of pi, and the degree of b is the difference of the degrees of f and g (if this difference is non negative; otherwise, b=0), one may write these unknowns polynomials as polynomials with unknown coefficients. Reducing the two members of above formula to the same denominator and writing that the coefficients of each power of x are the same in the two numerators, one gets a system of linear equations which can be solved to obtain the desired values for the unknowns coefficients.
and then seek partial fractions for the remainder fraction (which by definition satisfies deg R < deg Q).
If Q(x) contains factors which are irreducible over the given field, then the numerator N(x) of each partial fraction with such a factor F(x) in the denominator must be sought as a polynomial with deg N < deg F, rather than as a constant. For example, take the following decomposition over R:
Suppose Q(x) = (x − α)rS(x) and S(α) ≠ 0. Then Q(x) has a zero α of multiplicityr, and in the partial fraction decomposition, r of the partial fractions will involve the powers of (x − α). For illustration, take S(x) = 1 to get the following decomposition:
where a1,..., am, b1,..., bn, c1,..., cn are real numbers with bi2 − 4ci < 0, and j1,..., jm, k1,..., kn are positive integers. The terms (x − ai) are the linear factors of q(x) which correspond to real roots of q(x), and the terms (xi2 + bix + ci) are the irreducible quadratic factors of q(x) which correspond to pairs of complex conjugate roots of q(x).
Then the partial fraction decomposition of ƒ(x) is the following:
Here, P(x) is a (possibly zero) polynomial, and the Air, Bir, and Cir are real constants. There are a number of ways the constants can be found.
The most straightforward method is to multiply through by the common denominator q(x). We then obtain an equation of polynomials whose left-hand side is simply p(x) and whose right-hand side has coefficients which are linear expressions of the constants Air, Bir, and Cir. Since two polynomials are equal if and only if their corresponding coefficients are equal, we can equate the coefficients of like terms. In this way, a system of linear equations is obtained which always has a unique solution. This solution can be found using any of the standard methods of linear algebra. It can also be found with limits (see Example 5).
The factor x2 − 4x + 8 is irreducible over the reals, as its discriminant(−4)2 − 4×8 = − 16 is negative. Thus the partial fraction decomposition over the reals has the shape
Multiplying through by x3 − 4x2 + 8x, we have the polynomial identity
Taking x = 0, we see that 16 = 8A, so A = 2. Comparing the x2 coefficients, we see that 4 = A + B = 2 + B, so B = 2. Comparing linear coefficients, we see that −8 = −4A + C = −8 + C, so C = 0. Altogether,
If you wish, you can decompose it completely. In that case we must go over to the complex numbers. According to the fundamental theorem of algebra every complex polynomial of degree n has n (complex) roots (some of which can be repeated), focusing on the second fraction we decompose it to:
Multiplying through by the denominator gives:
Equating the coefficients of x and the constant (with respect to x) coefficients of both sides of this equation, one gets a system of two linear equations in D and E, whose solution is
Thus we have a complete decomposition:
One may also compute directly A, D and E with the residue method (see also example 4 below).
Multiplying through by the denominator on the left-hand side we have the polynomial identity
Now we use different values of x to compute the coefficients:
Solving this we have:
We using these values we can write:
We compare the coefficients of x6 and x5 on both side and we have:
which gives us B = 0. Thus the partial fraction decomposition of f(x) is thus
Alternatively, instead of expanding, one can obtain other linear dependences on the coefficients computing some derivatives at in the above polynomial identity. (To this end, recall that the derivative at x = a of (x − a)mp(x) vanishes if m > 1 and is just p(a) for m = 1.) For instance the first derivative at x = 1 gives
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Kung, Sidney H. (2006). "Partial fraction decomposition by division". Coll. Math. J. 37 (2): 132–134. JSTOR27646303.