For example, the polynomial has coefficients 2, −1, and 3, and the powers of the variable in the polynomial have coefficient parameters , , and .
The constant coefficient is the coefficient not attached to variables in an expression. For example, the constant coefficients of the expressions above are the number 3 and the parameter c, respectively.
The coefficient attached to the highest degree of the variable in a polynomial is referred to as the leading coefficient. For example, in the expressions above, the leading coefficients are 2 and a, respectively.
with variables and , the first two terms have the coefficients 7 and −3. The third term 1.5 is the constant coefficient. In the final term, the coefficient is 1 and is not explicitly written.
In many scenarios, coefficients are numbers (as is the case for each term of the previous example), although they could be parameters of the problem—or any expression in these parameters. In such a case, one must clearly distinguish between symbols representing variables and symbols representing parameters. Following René Descartes, the variables are often denoted by x, y, ..., and the parameters by a, b, c, ..., but this is not always the case. For example, if y is considered a parameter in the above expression, then the coefficient of x would be −3y, and the constant coefficient (with respect to x) would be 1.5 + y.
When one writes
it is generally assumed that x is the only variable, and that a, b and c are parameters; thus the constant coefficient is c in this case.
Any polynomial in a single variable x can be written as
for some nonnegative integer, where are the coefficients. This includes the possibility that some terms have coefficient 0; for example, in , the coefficient of is 0, and the term does not appear explicitly. For the largest such that (if any), is called the leading coefficient of the polynomial. For example, the leading coefficient of the polynomial
The leading entry (sometimes leading coefficient) of a row in a matrix is the first nonzero entry in that row. So, for example, in the matrix
the leading coefficient of the first row is 1; that of the second row is 2; that of the third row is 4, while the last row does not have a leading coefficient.
Though coefficients are frequently viewed as constants in elementary algebra, they can also be viewed as variables as the context broadens. For example, the coordinates of a vector in a vector space with basis are the coefficients of the basis vectors in the expression