Site Map

Slopes of Functions

I. Slope of a straight line
II. Slope of a curve
III. The Derivative
IV. Table of Common Derivatives

 

I. Slope of a straight line

Consider a line passing through points (x1, y1) and (x2, y2). The slope of the line is defined as the ratio of change in y to change in x:

Slope = (y2 - y1)/(x2 - x1) Horizontal lines have a slope of zero because y is constant, and so the change in y is zero. Vertical lines have an undefined slope because x equals a constant, and so the change in x is zero.

 
Example 1: Find the slope of a line passing through points (3, -4) and (-7, 15). Slope = (15 - (-4))/(-7 - 3) = -19/10

The slope of a straight line is constant, so the slope defined by known points (x1, y1) and (x2, y2) equals the slope defined by an indefinite point (x, y), and either (x1, y1) or (x2, y2):

Slope = (y - y1)/(x - x1) = (y - y2)/(x - x2)

If we equate this definition of slope with the known value of the slope, then we have a complete description of the line.

 
Example 2. The slope of a line passing through (3, -4) and (-7, 15) is -19/10 (see Example 1). We can define the slope of this line using an indefinite point (x, y) and either (3, -4) or (-7, 15):

Slope = (y - (-4))/(x - 3) = (y + 4)/(x - 3) = -19/10

Slope = (y - 15)/(x - (-7)) = (y - 15)/(x + 7) = -19/10

Both of these equations are valid descriptions of the same line.

There are infinite ways to describe the same line, but the preferred way is the "slope-intercept" equation, y = slope*x + intercept. This equation immediately reveals two important properties of the line: the slope and the y-intercept.

 
Example 3. We can "rearrange" both of the equations found in Example 2 into the slope-intercept equation of the line. Starting with the first equation, (y + 4)/(x-3) = -19/10, we multiply both sides by (x-3) and then subtract 4 from each side to get y = (-19/10)x + 17/10. Starting with the second equation, (y-15)/(x + 7) = -19/10, we multiply both sides by (x + 7) and then add 15 to each side to get the same slope-intercept equation, y = (-19/10)x + 17/10. This equation tells us that the slope of the line is -19/10, and the y-intercept is 17/10.

The slope-intercept equation presents x as the independent variable and y as the dependent variable. Dependent variable y is a function of independent variable x, and this relationship is often shown by writing y(x) or F(x) instead of y.

Here are some characteristics of slopes and lines:

II. Slope of a curve

Suppose that (x, F(x)) and (u, F(u)) are points on the same curve F. The slope of the line connecting these points, [F(u) - F(x)]/[u - x], approximates the slope of the tangent at (x, F(x)):

Slope of tangent at (x, F(x)) ~ [F(u) - F(x)]/[u - x]

The smaller the distance between x and u, the better the approximation. If we slide u toward x, then the line connecting (x, F(x)) and (u, F(u)) becomes the tangent at (x, F(x)). This is called "the limit that u approaches x," and is written in shorthand "limit u --> x" or "lim u --> x." The slope of F at x is defined

S(x) = limit u --> x [F(u) - F(x)]/[u - x]

This definition of slope is useful for deriving an approximation equation, but not for finding a function S(x) given a function F(x).

III. The Derivative

We can improve our definition of slope S(x) by defining [u - x] as the increment Dx (pronounced delta-x), so that u = x + Dx and F(u) = F(x + Dx). As we slide u toward x, the increment Dx approaches zero. Slope S(x) is defined

S(x) = limit Dx --> 0 [F(x + Dx) - F(x)]/[Dx]

S(x) is called the derivative of F(x), and it is usually written dF/dx or F'(x). We can easily find the derivative if F(x) is a polynomial.

 
Example 4. Let F(x) = 5 x2 + 3 x + 1. Then F(x + Dx) = 5(x + Dx)2 + 3(x + Dx) + 1 = 5x2 + 10xDx + 5Dx2 + 3x + 3Dx + 1.

The slope of the line connecting (x, F(x)) and (x + Dx, F(x + Dx)) is

Slope = [F(x + Dx) - F(x)]/[(x + Dx) - x] = [5x2 + 10xDx + 5Dx2 + 3x + 3Dx + 1 - (5x2 + 3x + 1)]/Dx

= [10xDx + 5Dx2 + 3Dx]/Dx

= 10x + 5Dx + 3

As Dx approaches zero, the slope of the line connecting (x, F(x)) and (x + Dx, F(x + Dx)) becomes the slope of the tangent at (x, F(x)):

S(x) = limit Dx --> 0 [10x + 5Dx + 3] = 10x + 3

When F(x) is not a polynomial, then finding derivative S(x) is not so easy. Fortunately, the derivatives of other functions have already been found for us. Below is a Table of Derivative with derivative-formulas for many common functions. More complicated derivatives can be found in any calculus or math-reference book.

IV. Table of Common Derivatives

In this table of derivatives, z is the variable, F(z) and G(z) are functions of z, and k and m are constants independent of z. The derivative of F(z) is defined as

dF(z)/dz = limit as Dz --> 0 [F(z + Dz) - F(z)]/Dz

FUNCTION DERIVATIVE
k 0
k zm k m z(m - 1)
emz m emz
kz

Note: kz = ez Ln (k)

[Ln (k)] kz
Ln (kz)
Note: Ln (kz) = Ln(k) + Ln(z)
1/z
Log10 (kz)

Note: Log10 (kz) = [Log10 (e)] [Ln (kz)]

[Log10 (e)]/z
Sin (kz) k Cos (kz)
Cos (kz) - k Sin (kz)
Tan (kz) k [1 + Tan2 (kz)]
Sinh (kz) k Cosh (kz)
Cosh (kz) k Sinh (kz)
Tanh (kz) k [1 - Tanh2 (kz)]
k F(z) k dF/dz
[F(z)]m m [F(z)](m - 1) dF/dz
emF(z) m emF(z) dF/dz
kF(z)

Note: kF(z) = eF(z) Ln(k)

[Ln (k)] kF(z) dF/dz
Ln [F(z)] [1/F(z)] dF/dz
Sin [k F(z)] k Cos (k F(z)) dF/dz
Cos [k F(z)] - k Sin (k F(z)) dF/dz
Tan [k F(z)] k (1 + Tan2 [k F(z)]) dF/dz
F(z) + G(z) dF/dz + dG/dz
F(z) G(z) F dG/dz + G dF/dz
F(z)/G(z) (1/G) dF/dz - (F/G2) dG/dz
G(F(z)) (dG/dF)(dF/dz)

URL http://members.aceweb.com/patrussell/approximations/Slopes.htm

Site Map


Unpublished work. Copyright 2001 Pat Russell. Updated April 17, 2009.