In this section we learn how to find the equation of the tangent and the normal to a curve at a point along its length.
For each we learn a two-step method as well as view a tutorial and work our way through exercises to consolidate our knowlede.
Say the curve has equation \(y = f(x)\), then its gradient at a point \(P\begin{pmatrix}a,b\end{pmatrix}\) along its length is equal to: \[f'(a)\] Where \(f'(a)\) is the derivative of \(f(x)\) evaluated at \(x = a\).
So the tangent will have gradient: \[m = f'(a)\]
The normal to a curve at a point \(P\) along its length is the line which passes through point \(P\) and is perpendicular to the tangent at \(P\).
Say the curve has equation \(y = f(x)\), then its gradient at a point \(P\begin{pmatrix}a,b\end{pmatrix}\) along its length is equal to: \[f'(a)\] Since the normal is perpendicular to the tangent, its gradient is the negative reciprocal of the gradient of the tangent. That's: \[m = -\frac{1}{f'(a)}\]
A tangent to a curve as well as a normal to a curve are both lines. They therefore have an equation of the form: \[y = mx+c\] The methods we learn here therefore consist of finding the tangent's (or normal's) gradient and then finding the value of the \(y\)-intercept \(c\) (like for any line).
We start by learning how to find the equation of a tangent to a curve. Further-down, we learn how to find the equation of a normal.
Given a function \(f(x)\), described by a curve \(y=f(x)\), we find the equation of the tangent to the curve at a point \(P\begin{pmatrix}a,b\end{pmatrix}\) along its length, in two steps:
In the following tutorial we illustrate how to use this two-step method with two examples, in which we find:
Find the equation of the tangent to the curve \[y = x^2 - 4\] at the point along its length with coordinates \(\begin{pmatrix}3,5\end{pmatrix}\).
Given a function \(f(x)\), described by a curve \(y=f(x)\), we find the equation of the normal to the curve at a point \(P\begin{pmatrix}a,b\end{pmatrix}\) along its length, in three steps:
Find the equation of the normal to the curve \[y = \frac{x^2}{2}-\frac{5}{2}\] at the point along its length with coordinates \(\begin{pmatrix}3,2\end{pmatrix}\).