< Previous Section | Home | Next Section > |

The Tangent Function in Trigonometry

It is unfortunate that the word "tangent" in trigonometry has a different meaning than in geometry. In geometry, and speaking loosely, a tangent is a line that touches a curve in just one point. However, the tangent function in trigonometry is a function that gives the

The quotient $\left( \dfrac{\sin(\theta)}{\cos(\theta)} \right)$ gives the size of $\sin(\theta)$ in units of $\cos(\theta)$. A value of the quotient does not have the radius as a unit of measure, as does sine and cosine. But to graph $y = \tan(x)$ in the same coordinate system as sine and cosine, the quotient must have the circle’s radius as a unit of measure. We can do that by using similar triangles.

The animation in Figure 2.6.2 uses the relationship $$\dfrac{\sin(\theta)}{\cos(\theta)}=\dfrac{\tan(\theta)}{1}.$$By displaying the value of $\tan(\theta)$ at $x =1$, the directed segment that represents the value of $\tan(\theta)$ is measured in units of the circle’s radius. We can thus graph $y = \tan(x)$ in the same coordinate system as cosine and sine because "1" stands for the same thing for all of them — the length of the circle’s radius.

**Reflection 2.6.1**. Convince yourself that the value labeled
$\tan(\theta)$ gives the slope of the line, and that this value is measured
in units of the circle’s radius.

**Reflection 2.6.2**. Play the animation in Figure 2.15, stopping it when
the value of $\cos(\theta)$ is close to 0. What happens to the quotient
sin($\theta$)/cos($\theta$) as $\cos(\theta)$ is near 0 but less than 0?
What happens to the quotient sin($\theta$)/cos($\theta$) as $\cos(\theta)$
is near 0 but greater than 0?

**Reflection 2.6.3**. Why does $\tan(\theta)$ make sudden jumps from
positive infinity to negative infinity?

**
Reflection 2.6.7**. Is $\tan(\theta)$ always increasing over every
interval contained in the domain of its independent variable? That is, does
it ever decrease as $\theta$ increases continuously?

**Reflection 2.6.4**. Why is $\theta$ given as the input to sine, cosine,
and tangent functions in Figure 2.6.2 instead of x? When is it
appropriate to write "sin(x)", "cos(x)", and "tan(x)"?

< Previous Section | Home | Next Section > |