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Inverse Sine, Cosine, Tangent

Sine, Cosine and Tangent are all based on a Right-Angled Triangle

And they are very similar functions ... so we will look at the Sine Function and then Inverse
Sine to learn what it is all about.

Sine Function

The Sine of angle is:

the length of the side Opposite angle

divided by the length of the Hypotenuse

Or more simply:

sin() = Opposite / Hypotenuse

Example: What is the sine of 35?

Using this triangle (lengths are only to one decimal place):

sin(35) = Opposite / Hypotenuse = 2.8/4.9 = 0.57...

The Sine Function can help us solve things like this:

Example: Use the sine function to find "d"

We know

The angle the cable makes with the seabed is 39

The cable's length is 30 m.

And we want to know "d" (the distance down).

Start with: sin 39 = opposite/hypotenuse
sin 39 = d/30
Swap Sides: d/30 = sin 39
Use a calculator to find sin 39: d/30 = 0.6293
Multiply both sides by 30: d = 0.6293 x 30
d = 18.88 to 2 decimal places.

The depth "d" is 18.88 m

Inverse Sine
But sometimes it is the angle we need to find.
This is where "Inverse Sine" comes in.

It answers the question "what angle has sine equal to opposite/hypotenuse?"

The symbol for inverse sine is sin-1

Example: Find the angle "a"

We know

The distance down is 18.88 m.

The cable's length is 30 m.

And we want to know the angle "a"

Start with: sin a = opposite/hypotenuse

sin a = 18.88/30
Calculate 18.88/30: sin a = 0.6293...

What angle has sine equal to 0.6293...?

The Inverse Sine will tell us.
Inverse Sine: a = sin-1(0.6293...)
Use a calculator to find sin-1(0.6293...): a = 39.0 (to 1 decimal place)

The angle "a" is 39.0

They Are Like Forward and Backwards!

The Sine function sin takes an angle and gives us the ratio "opposite/hypotenuse"

Inverse Sine sin


takes the ratio "opposite/hypotenuse" and gives us the angle.

Sine Function:
Inverse Sine:

sin(30) = 0.5
sin-1(0.5) = 30

More Than One Angle!

Inverse Sine only shows you one angle ... but there are more angles that could work.

Example: Here are two angles where opposite/hypotenuse = 0.5

In fact there are infinitely many angles, because you can keep adding (or subtracting)

Remember this, because there are times when you actually need one of the other angles!


The Sine of angle is:

sin() = Opposite / Hypotenuse

And Inverse Sine is :

sin-1 (Opposite / Hypotenuse) =

What About "cos" and "tan" ... ?

Exactly the same idea.


The Cosine of angle is:

cos() = Adjacent / Hypotenuse

And Inverse Cosine is :

cos-1 (Adjacent / Hypotenuse) =

Example: Find the size of angle a

cos a = Adjacent / Hypotenuse
cos a = 6,750/8,100 = 0.8333...
a = cos-1 (0.8333...) = 33.6 (to 1 decimal place)


The Tangent of angle is:

tan() = Opposite / Adjacent

So Inverse Tangent is :

tan-1 (Opposite / Adjacent) =

Example: Find the size of angle x

tan x = Opposite / Adjacent
tan x = 300/400 = 0.75
x = tan-1 (0.75) = 36.9 (correct to 1 decimal place)

Other Names
Sometimes sin-1 is called asin or arcsin.
Likewise cos-1 is called acos or arccos
And tan-1 is called atan or arctan.


arcsin(y) is the same as sin-1(y)

atan() is the same as tan-1()


The Graphs
And lastly, here are the graphs of Sine, Inverse Sine, Cosine and Inverse Cosine:


Inverse Sine


Inverse Cosine
Did you notice anything about the graphs?

They look similar somehow, right?

But the Inverse Sine and Inverse Cosine don't "go on forever" like Sine and Cosine do ...

Let us look at the example of Cosine.

Here is Cosine and Inverse Cosine plotted on the same graph:

Cosine and Inverse Cosine

They are mirror images (about the diagonal)
But why does Inverse Cosine get chopped off at top and bottom (the dots are not really part
of the function) ... ?

Because to be a function it can only give one answer

when we ask "what is cos-1(x) ?"
One Answer or Infinitely Many Answers

But we saw earlier that there are infinitely many answers, and the dotted line on the graph
shows this.
So yes there are infinitely many answers ...
... but imagine you type 0.5 into your calculator, press cos-1 and it gives you a never ending
list of possible answers ...

So we have this rule that a function can only give one answer.
So, by chopping it off like that we get just one answer, but we should remember that there
could be other answers.

Tangent and Inverse Tangent

And here is the tangent function and inverse tangent. Can you see how they are mirror
images (about the diagonal) ...?


Inverse Tangent