In math, you have four basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Addition means putting two numbers together to make a larger one. Before you set out on this journey, you’ll need to know a few important words and symbols and exactly what they mean.

  • Addends: These are the numbers you’re adding together.
  • Sum: This is the number you get when you combine your addends. You could also call it your total or how many you have altogether.
  • Plus (+): Plus simply means you’re adding something. It’s shown by the + sign when it’s written down.
  • Equals (=): This is another word for “is” or “amounts to”, and it comes after your addends to let everyone know the answer is nearby.
  • Numeral: This is just another way of saying “number”.

With those terms and meanings all close by to help you remember them, let’s get started. We’ll use the same numbers, or numerals, in our first few examples just to make things a little easier. First of all, we’ll do a regular number sentence.

2 + 3 = 5

When you start off with 2 cookies and someone gives you 3 more, you have 5 altogether. In this sentence, 2 and 3 are your addends, and 5 is your sum. If you’d like to use real cookies to see the process in action, feel free to do so; just remember if you eat one, you’re heading into a whole different type of operation!

Instead of using objects, you could also use a number line to help you in your addition quest. Like you’ve probably guessed, a number line is just a line with marks and numbers. Here’s a sample:

Use your pencil to make a dot on your starting point, which would be your first addend, the number 2. Then, bounce over 3 spaces to the right because that’s how many you’re adding, and you’ll land on your sum of 5. You can also reverse your addends and still get the same total. No matter which numbers show up in your addition problems, you’ll always mark your first addend on the number line and move to the right as many spaces as your second addend tells you.

Once you get the hang of simpler problems like these, you can move on to addition using two-digit numbers. You’ll still be adding two numbers together to make a bigger one, but the process is a little more difficult and you’ll need a longer number line or a lot more cookies. These problems are easier to do if you stand your number sentence on its side, so to speak. In the world of math, this is called column addition.

When you use column addition, it’s important to have your numbers lined up in the right way, like this:


If you’ll notice, in column addition, the equal sign is replaced by a line, but they mean the same thing. In problems like these, you’re adding the right-side column first: 2 + 3. Since their sum is 5, 5 goes directly beneath them below the “equals” line. Then, you’ll add the left-hand column: 1 + 1. The sum of these two is 2, so it makes its home to the left of the 5. Voila: 12 plus 13 is 25 altogether!


You’re doing great so far, but the trick to mastering any talent is practice. You can make up your own problems to help build your skills; at the same time, some great websites have plenty of ready-made practice addition problems just waiting for you, like:

  • Doctor Genius
  • IXL
  • Math is Fun

You’ll also find all kinds of fun and helpful addition games at:

  • com
  • com

Be sure to keep practicing, and let these online resources help you along the way as you venture into place value, adding larger numbers, subtraction, multiplication, division and beyond!