If $a$ and $b$ are two real numbers and $ax = bx$, then we can’t conclude that $a = b$ because $x$ may be zero. The same is true for tensor products of modules: if $A$ and $B$ are two left $R$-modules and $X$ is a right $R$-module, then an isomorphism $X\otimes_R A\cong A\otimes_R B$ does not necessarily mean that $A\cong B$. Of course, $X$ not even need be zero for this to happen.

Addition for real numbers is a little different. If $a$ and $b$ are two real numbers then $x + a = x + b$ is equivalent to $a = b$. What about for direct sums? If $A$ and $B$ are two $R$-modules, and $X$ is a third $R$ module, what if $X\oplus A\cong A\oplus B$? Is it true that $A\cong B$?

The answer is no. Perhaps this is surprising from the way direct sums work. After all, in a direct sum $X\oplus A$, it “feels like” what happens in $X$ is independent from what happens in $A$. And for vector spaces, this is true: for $k$-modules where $k$ is a field, if $X\oplus A\cong X\oplus B$, then certainly $A\cong B$, because $A$ and $B$ have the same dimension.

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