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Suppose x0 is an interior point of the domain of a function f(x), and f(x)
is differentiable at x0. Assume also that f(x0) and f (x0) are known. The
method of approximation by differentials provides an approximate values

f(x1) if x1 is near x0. We use the symbol ‘’ to stand for ‘is approximately’.
One uses the formula

f(x1)f(x0) +f (x0)(x1x0).

(2.62)

On the right hand side in (2.62) we have l(x1), the tangent line to the graph
of f(x) at (x0,f(x0)) evaluated at x1. In the sense of Definition 2.2, f(x1)
is close to l(x1) for x1 near x0.

Example 2.79. Find an approximate value for 39.
Solution: We set f(x) = 3x, so we are supposed to find f(9). Note

that

f (x) = 1

3x−2/3

, f(8) = 2, and f (8) = 1

12.

Formula (2.62), applied with x1 = 9 and x0 = 8, says that

39 = f(9)2 + 1

12(98) = 25

122.0833.

Your calculator will give you 39 2.0801. The method gave us a pretty
good answer. ♦

Example 2.80. Find an approximate value for tan46◦.
Solution: We carry out the calculation in radial measure. Note that
46◦ = 45◦ + 1◦, and this corresponds to π/4 + π/180. Use the function

f(x) = tanx. Then f (x) = sec2

x, f(π/4) = 1, and f (π/4) = 2. Formula

(2.62), applied with x1 = (π/4 +π/180) and x0 = π/4 says

tan46◦ = tan

π

4 + π

180

tan

π

4

+ sec2

π

4

π

180

= 1 + π

901.0349.

2.14. NUMERICAL METHODS

119

Your calculator will give you tan46◦1.0355. Again we get a pretty close
answer using the method. ♦

Remark 10. When you apply (2.62), then you may ask what value to take
for x0. A useful choice will be an x0 which is close to x1, and for which you
have little difficulties finding f(x0) and f (x0).

Exercise 91. Use approximation by differentials to find approximate values
for

(1) 534 (2) tan31◦ (3) ln1.2 (4) arctan1.1.

In each case, compare your answer with one found on your calculator.

We have been causal in (2.62) insofar as we have not estimated the error
which we make using the right hand side of (2.62) instead of of the actual
value of the function on the left hand side. The inequality in Definition 2.2
provides us with an estimate. Differentiability of the function f(x) means
that there exist numbers A and d > 0, such that

|f(x1)[f(x0) +f (x0)(x1x0)|≤A(x1x0)2

whenever|x1x0|< d. Thus, if we know A and d, then we can approximate
the error as long as |x1x0|< d.

Example 2.81. Find an approximate value for sin31◦ and estimate the
error.

Solution: Set f(x) = sinx. The f (x) = cosx, f(π/6) = 1/2, and

f (π/6) =3/2. Measuring angles in radians we set x0 = π/6 and x1 =

π/6 +π/180. Applying the formula in (2.62), we find

sin31◦sin π

6 + π

180 cos π

6 = 1
2

1 +3 π

180

.515115.

The calculator will tell that sin31◦.515038.
From the computation in Example 2.11 on page 50 we also know that
we may use A = 1 and d = π/4 in the differentiability estimate. We may
apply the estimate because |x1x0| < π/4. The estimate assures us that
the error is at most

(x1x0)2

=

π

180

2

.000305.

Comparison of the actual and approximate value confirm this. ♦

120

CHAPTER 2. THE DERIVATIVE

Example 2.82. Use approximation by differentials to find an approximate
value of10 and give an upper bound for the error.
Solution: We use f(x) =x and x0 = 9. The f (x) = 1/(2x),

f(x0) = 3, and f (x0) = 1/6. The formula in (2.62) tells us that

10 = f(10)f(9) +f (9)(109) = 3 + 1

63.16666.

The calculator will give you103.16228.
For the error estimate we may use

A = 1

2(x0)3

and any d > 0. This is the A which we picked in (2.18) while proving
Proposition 2.15. The estimate assures us that the error is at most

1
2(x0)3(x1x0)2

= 1

54.

The actual error is again substantially less than this. ♦

Exercise 92. Use approximation by differentials to find approximate values
for

(1) cos28◦ (2)26 (3) sin47◦.

In each case, estimate also the maximal error which you may have made by
using the method of approximation by differentials.

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