Subtraction with Regrouping

Subtraction with regrouping, often known as borrowing, is a fundamental technique taught in elementary arithmetic to subtract numbers that cannot be subtracted column by column without borrowing from the next higher place value. While the concept may seem straightforward for many, for beginners, especially children, it can initially appear as a challenging process. However, with the right explanation, coupled with illustrative examples, the method can be mastered efficiently.

Understanding the Basics

Let’s begin with a basic understanding of number places. Consider a two-digit number, say, 57. Here, 5 represents the ‘tens’ place, and 7 represents the ‘ones’ or ‘units’ place. The same concept can be expanded for hundreds, thousands, and so on.

Now, imagine you’re faced with a scenario where the digit in the ‘ones’ place of the top number is smaller than the digit in the ‘ones’ place of the number below it. You cannot directly subtract them. This is where regrouping comes into play.

subtraction with regrouping

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Step-by-Step Regrouping

Let’s use the example of 72 minus 58.

Starting from the Rightmost Column

Begin by subtracting the numbers in the units column. Here, you have 2 on the top and 8 below. Since 2 is smaller than 8, you cannot subtract it directly.

Borrowing from the Next Column

Move to the next left column, which is the ‘tens’ place. Here, you have 7. You borrow 1 (which is equivalent to 10 in the ‘ones’ place) from 7, which then becomes 6.

Adjusting the Current Column

The 1 you borrowed is added to the 2 in the ‘ones’ place, making it 12. Now, subtract 8 from 12, resulting in 4.

Continuing the Subtraction

Move back to the ‘tens’ place. Remember, the 7 is now 6 because we borrowed 1 from it earlier. Subtract the bottom number, which is 5, from 6, and you get 1.

Combining the Results

Now, put the results together. The number in the ‘tens’ place is 1, and the number in the ‘ones’ place is 4. Thus, 72 minus 58 equals 14.

Another Example

Consider subtracting 534 from 867:

  • Units Place: 7 is greater than 4. Subtracting them gives 3.
  • Tens Place: 6 is greater than 3. Subtracting them gives 3.
  • Hundreds Place: 8 minus 5 equals 3.

The answer is 333.

However, let’s try a number where more regrouping is required.

Subtracting 578 from 1001:

  • Units Place: 1 is smaller than 8. Borrow 1 from the tens place. The 1 becomes 11 in the units place. 11 minus 8 equals 3.
  • Tens Place: Now, since we borrowed 1 from the tens place, 0 becomes 9 (remember, the original number was 1001, so there was a 0 in the tens place). 9 is greater than 7, so 9 minus 7 is 2.
  • Hundreds Place: 0 minus 5? Again, we cannot subtract this directly. Borrow 1 from the thousands place. 0 becomes 10. 10 minus 5 equals 5.
  • Thousands Place: Now, the 1 becomes 0, as we had borrowed 1 for the hundreds place.

Combining all these results, 1001 minus 578 equals 423.

subtraction with regrouping

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Benefits of Understanding Regrouping

  • Building a Strong Mathematical Foundation: Mastery of regrouping ensures that learners have a solid understanding of place value, which is pivotal for higher mathematical operations.
  • Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills: Subtraction with regrouping can sometimes feel like solving a puzzle, especially for kids. As they navigate the borrowing process, they enhance their problem-solving skills.
  • Application in Daily Life: From calculating expenses to determining distances or making time estimations, subtraction is omnipresent in daily scenarios. An understanding of regrouping can make such calculations swift and error-free.


Subtraction with regrouping is a cornerstone of elementary arithmetic. With clear, step-by-step approaches, coupled with consistent practice and real-life application, the method can be ingrained effectively in young learners, setting them up for mathematical success.

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