When we study fractions, we learn that the **greatest common factor** (GCF) of two numbers is the largest number that divides evenly into both numbers. For instance, [latex]4[/latex] is the GCF of [latex]16[/latex] and [latex]20[/latex] because it is the largest number that divides evenly into both [latex]16[/latex] and [latex]20[/latex] The GCF of polynomials works the same way: [latex]4x[/latex] is the GCF of [latex]16x[/latex] and [latex]20{x}^{2}[/latex] because it is the largest polynomial that divides evenly into both [latex]16x[/latex] and [latex]20{x}^{2}[/latex].

When factoring a polynomial expression, our first step should be to check for a GCF. Look for the GCF of the coefficients, and then look for the GCF of the variables.

### A General Note: Greatest Common Factor

The **greatest common factor** (GCF) of polynomials is the largest polynomial that divides evenly into the polynomials.

### How To: Given a polynomial expression, factor out the greatest common factor.

- Identify the GCF of the coefficients.
- Identify the GCF of the variables.
- Combine to find the GCF of the expression.
- Determine what the GCF needs to be multiplied by to obtain each term in the expression.
- Write the factored expression as the product of the GCF and the sum of the terms we need to multiply by.

### Example 1: Factoring the Greatest Common Factor

Factor [latex]6{x}^{3}{y}^{3}+45{x}^{2}{y}^{2}+21xy[/latex].

### Solution

First, find the GCF of the expression. The GCF of [latex]6,45[/latex], and [latex]21[/latex] is [latex]3[/latex]. The GCF of [latex]{x}^{3},{x}^{2}[/latex], and [latex]x[/latex] is [latex]x[/latex]. (Note that the GCF of a set of expressions in the form [latex]{x}^{n}[/latex] will always be the exponent of lowest degree.) And the GCF of [latex]{y}^{3},{y}^{2}[/latex], and [latex]y[/latex] is [latex]y[/latex]. Combine these to find the GCF of the polynomial, [latex]3xy[/latex].

Next, determine what the GCF needs to be multiplied by to obtain each term of the polynomial. We find that [latex]3xy\left(2{x}^{2}{y}^{2}\right)=6{x}^{3}{y}^{3},3xy\left(15xy\right)=45{x}^{2}{y}^{2}[/latex], and [latex]3xy\left(7\right)=21xy[/latex].

Finally, write the factored expression as the product of the GCF and the sum of the terms we needed to multiply by.

### Analysis of the Solution

After factoring, we can check our work by multiplying. Use the distributive property to confirm that [latex]\left(3xy\right)\left(2{x}^{2}{y}^{2}+15xy+7\right)=6{x}^{3}{y}^{3}+45{x}^{2}{y}^{2}+21xy[/latex].

### Try It 1

Factor [latex]x\left({b}^{2}-a\right)+6\left({b}^{2}-a\right)[/latex] by pulling out the GCF.