What Is a Four-Function Calculator?

By Staff WriterLast Updated May 27, 2020 7:23:13 PM ET
Numbers Money Calculating Calculation
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When you need to solve a math problem and want to make sure you have the right answer, a calculator can come in handy. Calculators are small computers that can perform a variety of calculations and can solve equations and problems.

While there are more complicated calculators available, the simplest models perform four basic functions. They can help you solve most everyday math problems but won't be much help on an algebra exam.

What a Four-Function Calculator Does

A four-function calculator typically performs the four most basic operations of math. It can:

  • Add

  • Subtract
  • Multiply 
  • Divide

Depending on the complexity of the operation, a four-function calculator can be limiting. Since it might not be able to display many digits on its screen, it can be limited in terms of the size of numbers it can add. It's also not able to perform operations that would produce imaginary numbers.

When You Can Use a Four-Function Calculator

There are many instances in life when a four-function calculator can come in handy. You might find that you use one when creating your household budget, when measuring for furniture and deciding what will fit in your home or in a particular room, or when figuring out how to split a restaurant check with friends. 

If you're a student, there might be times when you are allowed to use a four-function calculator in class or on exams. Some standardized tests allow students to use simple calculators on certain parts of an exam. Students who have certain learning disabilities might be allowed to use a four-function calculator during exam sections that usually forbid the use of a calculator. 

Limitations of a Four-Function Calculator

While a four-function calculator can perform basic addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, it can't perform more complex operations such as calculating logarithms or performing trigonometry. 

Usually, the display on a four-function calculator is small, allowing for a single line of numbers. Meanwhile, the displays on other types of calculators can be much larger, allowing you to input more complex equations or to display images and graphs. 

Additional Features You Might Find on a Four-Function Calculator

The most basic of four-function calculators will let you perform the four basic mathematical operations. But some simple calculators have a few more bells and whistles. For example, it's not uncommon for a four-function calculator to also be able to calculate the square root of a number. Many models also have a "%" button that lets you work with percents, rather than inputting the number as a decimal.

Other Types of Calculators

If you only need a calculator for day-to-day, basic math problems, a four-function calculator will most likely meet your needs. You most likely won't even have to purchase a separate machine, as many cell or smartphones and computer operating systems include a simple calculator. 

But if you're taking an algebra course or are in a higher-level math course, you might be on the lookout for a calculator that can do a bit more than basic math. A scientific calculator is a device designed to perform mathematical, scientific and engineering functions. It usually has a memory setting and can store information about equations. 

A graphing calculator is even more complex and advanced than a scientific calculator. It usually has a relatively large screen, which allows it to display graphs and charts. Typically, a graphic calculator can come in handy if you're taking a math class such as calculus or are in a field that requires you to solve advanced equations regularly.