Prime Numbers and Composite Numbers

A Prime Number is:

a whole number that cannot be made by multiplying other whole numbers

Example: 5 is a prime number.

We cannot multiply other whole numbers like 2, 3 or 4 together to make 5

Example: 6 can be made by 2×3 so is NOT a prime number, it is a composite number

Dividing Into Equal Groups

It is all about trying to divide the number into equal groups

Some whole numbers can be divided up exactly, and some can't!

Example: 6

6 can be divided exactly by 2, or by 3:

6 = 2 × 3

Like this:

6 divided into 2 or 6 divided into 3

divided into 2 groups

 

divided into 3 groups

 

Example: 7

But 7 cannot be divided up exactly:

7 is Prime

And we give them names:

So 6 is Composite, but 7 is Prime

Like this:

Prime vs Composite Number

 

And that explains it ... but there are some more details ...

 

Not Into Fractions

We are only dealing with whole numbers here! We are not going to cut things into halves or quarters.

Not Into Groups of 1

OK, we could have divided 7 into seven 1s (or one 7) like this:

prime 1x7
7 = 1 x 7

But we could do that for any whole number!

So we are only interested in dividing by whole numbers other than the number itself.

Example: is 7 a Prime Number or Composite Number?

7 is Prime

We can only divide 7 into one group of 7 (or seven groups of 1):

prime 1x7
7 = 1 x 7

So 7 is a Prime Number

And also:

It is a Composite Number when it can be divided exactly
by a whole number other than itself.

Like this:

Example: is 6 a Prime Number or Composite Number?

6 can be divided exactly by 2, or by 3, as well as by 1 or 6:

6 = 1 × 6
6 = 2 × 3

So 6 is a Composite Number

Sometimes a number can be divided exactly many ways:

Example: 12 can be divided exactly by 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12:

1 × 12 = 12
2 × 6 = 12
3 × 4 = 12

So 12 is a Composite Number

And note this:

Any whole number greater than 1 is either Prime or Composite

What About 1?

Years ago 1 was included as a Prime, but now it is not:

1 is not Prime and also not Composite.

 

You can also try this Prime Numbers Activity.

Factors

We can also define a Prime Number using factors.

factor 2x3=6
"Factors" are numbers we multiply
together to get another number.

And we have:

When the only two factors of a number are 1 and the number,
then it is a Prime Number

It means the same as our previous definition, just stated using factors.

And remember this is only about Whole Numbers (1, 2, 3, ... etc), not fractions or negative numbers. So don't say "I could multiply ½ times 6 to get 3" OK?

Examples:

3 = 1 × 3
(the only factors are 1 and 3)
Prime
   
6 = 1 × 6   or   6 = 2 × 3
(the factors are 1,2,3 and 6)
Composite

Examples From 1 to 14

Factors other than 1 or the number itself are highlighted:

Number
Can be Exactly
Divided By
Prime, or
Composite?
1
(1 is not prime or composite)
2
1, 2
Prime
3
1, 3
Prime
4
1, 2, 4
Composite
5
1, 5
Prime
6
1, 2, 3, 6
Composite
7
1, 7
Prime
8
1, 2, 4, 8
Composite
9
1, 3, 9
Composite
10
1, 2, 5, 10
Composite
11
1, 11
Prime
12
1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12
Composite
13
1, 13
Prime
14
1, 2, 7, 14
Composite
...
...
...

So when there are more factors than 1 or the number itself, the number is Composite.

A question for you: is 15 Prime or Composite?

Why All the Fuss about Prime and Composite?

Because we can "break apart" Composite Numbers into Prime Number factors.

stacked blocks labeled 2 2 and  3

It is like the Prime Numbers are the basic building blocks of all numbers.

And the Composite Numbers are made up of Prime Numbers multiplied together.

Here we see it in action:

prime composite

2 is Prime, 3 is Prime, 4 is Composite (=2×2), 5 is Prime, and so on...

Example: 12 is made by multiplying the prime numbers 2, 2 and 3 together.

12 = 2 × 2 × 3

The number 2 was repeated, which is OK.

In fact we can write it like this using the exponent of 2:

12 = 22 × 3

 

And that is why they are called "Composite" Numbers because composite means "something made by combining things"

This idea is so important it is called The Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic.

 

There are many puzzles in mathematics that can be solved more easily when we "break up" the Composite Numbers into their Prime Number factors.

And a lot of internet security is based on mathematics using prime numbers in a subject called cryptography.