Algebra/Linear Equations and Functions

 ← The Coordinate (Cartesian) Plane Linear Equations and Functions Intercepts → 

What are Linear Equations?Edit

In the functions section we talked about how a function is like a box that takes an independent input value and uses a rule defined mathematically to create a unique output value. The value for the output is dependent on the value that is put in the box. We call the values that are going into the box the independent values or the domain. We call the values coming out of the box the dependent values or the range.

Unless we specify differently, on Cartesian graphs the domain is the real numbers. In the Cartesian Plane section we saw how running different values through a function to identify the points on the Cartesian plane by picking the first (x) value of the point the domain and the second (y) value from the range. To restate this: by convention the two variables for a function on the Cartesian Plane are x for the domain, the independent variable, and y for the range, the dependent variable. The variable y is the same as writing f(x). Mathematicians recognize this equivalence but generally prefer to write y because its shorter. Because a function definition has an input and an output it must also contain an equal sign. The section in this book solving equations showed the various operations we can perform on both sides of an equal sign and still maintain the notion of equivalence. In this section we plug different values into the independent variable and solve to find the associated dependent variable. For instance if we start with the equation:

We can add a -x to both sides to get the equation
which we then simplify to
Or we can add a -y to both sides to get the equation
which we then simplify to
Since   then:
Using the transitive property
adding x + y to both sides gives us
using the associative property we change this to
which simplifies to
And divide both sides by 2
To simply reverse the order and show

We have not really proved anything mathematically above, but these operations allow us to manipulate equations to get the dependent variable by itself on one side of the equals sign. Then we can plug numbers into the independent variable to discover the function values for those numbers. Then we can draw these values as points on the Cartesian plane and get a feel for what the function would look like if we could see all the points defined by the function at once.


Equations of the form y = C2 are linear functions of the general form y = m x + b where slope m = 0 and the constant C2 is the y-intercept b (in the general form). The graph of this zero-slope function is a straight horizontal line, intercepting the y-axis at C2, including zero and extends infinitely in the positive and negative directions for all R values of x (see the following diagram).


The domain for such functions is R covering all real numbers (unless otherwise specified), but the range is just the set { c }. The equation y = 0 is the x-axis.


Equation x = C1, x is one single value C1 and y, being unrestricted, is every R number. The graph of x = C1 is a straight vertical line where x = C1, covering all positive, negative and zero values of y (see the following diagram).


Its domain is set { C1 } and range is set R (unless otherwise specified). x = C1 is technically not a function (there is more than one value of y for each value of x), but it's a relation. Vertical lines have no slope (m = divide by zero, undefined, plus and minus infinity). These are the only types of linear equations of the general form shown previously which are not linear functions. The equation x = 0 is exactly the y-axis. Lines with steepness approaching vertical have very large-magnitude slopes but are still functions.


We are going to start by looking at simple functions called linear equations. When none of the instances of x and y in the algebraic expression defining the function rule have exponents then all the instances of x and y can be combined into just two occurrences. the graph of the expression can be represented as a straight line. The equation that expresses the function is considered a linear equation with two variables. The following equation is a simple example of such a linear equation:


Since y is the dependent variable it is standing in for the function. We can re-write the expression as f(x) - x = 2. If we add an x to both sides the equality property holds and we get the expression f(x) - x + x = x + 2. Simplifying we get f(x) = x + 2. In the following table we'll pick 3 values for x, and then calculate the dependent (y) values from f(x).

x value y value (abscissa) Coordinates
-1 1 (-1,1)
0 2 (0,2)
1 3 (1,3)

where x and y are variables to be plotted in a two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate graph as shown here:



This function is equivalent to the previous example of a linear equation, y - x = 2. The arrows at each end of the line indicate that the line extends infinitely in both directions. All linear functions of a single input variable have or can be algebraically arranged to have the general form:


where x and y are variables, f(x) is the function of x, m is a constant called the slope of the line, and b is a constant which is the ordinate of the y-intercept (i. e. the value of y where the function line crosses the y-axis). The slope indicates the steepness of the line. In the previous example where y = x + 2, the slope m = 1 and the y-intercept ordinate b = 2. The y = mx+b form of a linear function is called the slope-intercept form.

Unless a domain for x is otherwise stated, the domain for linear functions will be assumed to be all real numbers and so the lines in graphs of all linear functions extend infinitely in both directions. Also in linear functions with all real number domains, the range of a linear function will cover the entire set of real numbers for y, unless the slope m = 0 and the function equals a constant. In such cases, the range is simply the constant.

Conversely, if a function has the general form y = mx + b or if it can be arranged to have that form, the function is linear. A linear equation with two variables has or can be algebraically rearranged to have the general form1:


where x and y represent the linear variables, and the letters A, B, and C can represent any real constants, either positive or negative. Conversely, an equation with two variables x and y having that general form, or being able to be arranged in that form, would be linear as long as A and B are not both equal to 0. In the preceding equation, capital letters are to avoid confusion with other constants in this chapter and for consistency with Reference 1.

If one divides the preceding equation by B (when B is not 0) and solves for y, the following form can be obtained:


If one equates -A/B to the slope m and C/B to the y-intercept ordinate b, it can be seen that the general form for a linear equation and the slope-intercept form for a linear function are practically interconvertible except for the fact that, in a linear function, the B constant in the linear equation form cannot equal 0.