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where P is a polynomial with coefficients in some field, often the field of the rational numbers. For many authors, the term algebraic equation refers only to univariate equations, that is polynomial equations that involve only one variable. On the other hand, a polynomial equation may involve several variables. In the case of several variables (the multivariate case), the term polynomial equation is usually preferred to algebraic equation.
is an algebraic equation with integer coefficients and
is a multivariate polynomial equation over the rationals.
Some but not all polynomial equations with rational coefficients have a solution that is an algebraic expression that can be found using a finite number of operations that involve only those same types of coefficients (that is, can be solved algebraically). This can be done for all such equations of degree one, two, three, or four; but for degree five or more it can only be done for some equations, not all. A large amount of research has been devoted to compute efficiently accurate approximations of the real or complex solutions of a univariate algebraic equation (see Root-finding algorithm) and of the common solutions of several multivariate polynomial equations (see System of polynomial equations).