A rational number is one that can be expressed as a quotient of two integers (ie. as a fraction). So, all fractions are rational. And all whole number integers are rational (since they can be expressed as "something over one").
Conversely, irrational numbers can NOT be expressed as a fraction. The number pi is commonly given as an example of an irrational number, since it cannot be written as a fraction, and the numbers after the decimal point keep going and going. Going back to my last post, the square root of 24 is also irrational. If you punch it into a calculator, you will see that it is 4.8989794855663....... On this note, you can say that the square roots of non-perfect squares are irrational.
Now, to find the square root of a non-perfect square by hand, you just do the same trial and error method we learned when I explained square roots in my last post, only this time, as you narrow your guesses down, you can use numbers with more and more decimal points. Observe:
Find the square root of 24:
4 x 4 gives 16....
5 x 5 gives 25...
4.5 x 4.5 gives 20.25
4.9 x 4.9 gives 24.01.... needs to be a bit smaller
4.89 x 4.89 gives 23.912.... needs to be a bit bigger, but less than 4.9
4.898 x 4.898 gives 23.9904.... bit bigger still... but still less than 4.9
4.8989 x 4.8989 gives 23.999221.... even a bit bigger, but still less than 4.9
As you can see, this can go on and on, until you have as many decimal places as you want.
Alternately, and more commonly, you would leave your answer as an irrational number, rather than recording decimal places (since technically, writing to so many decimal places, unless you write FOREVER, can be expressed as a fraction.... tenths, hundredths, thousandths, ten thousandths, etc...)
However, you don't want to leave your irrational number in a form that hasn't been reduced yet, do you? Check back to my next post to find out how to factor square roots and express them in simplified radical form.