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Precalculus | Packer Collegiate Institute

The Inverse Trig Functions | AKA How Our Calculators Work

Warm Up: Review

1. Find the missing angle (in degrees) 2. Solve ) s n( . i 0 8 u = (in degrees) for 3 0 60

o o

u s s

3. Which of the three graphs are one-to-one functions?

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

sin( ) y x =

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

cos( ) y x =

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

tan( ) y x =

One-to-One? YES / NO One-to-One? YES / NO One-to-One? YES / NO

STRANGE OBSERVATION: Here’s the issue. In order to solve the problem above, didn’t we use the inverse

tangent function on the calculator? How can we do that, if tangent doesn’t have an inverse?

Section 1: Revisiting Basic Trig Equations

If we wanted to solve )

1

sin(

2

u = ÷ (where 3 0 60

o o

u s s ), then we know the solutions would be in

Quadrants III and IV, and the reference angle is 30

o

. Thus the two solutions are: 210

o

and 330

o

.

Now let’s solve this using our calculators, like we did in the warm up.

Whaaaat? This doesn’t match either angle above…

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! Or does it?

3

7

2

Section 2: Limitations of your calculator

The first thing you should be wondering is how does the calculator have

1

sin

÷

capabilities, since we know the

sine function is not one-to-one – and thus we know it cannot not have an inverse function. But the calculator is

giving us an inverse function. It’s written right here!

What’s going on is important, because not only does it explain what the calculator is doing, but you can see

how by a small mathematical trick involving periodicity, we can get something powerful.

Defining Three New (Old) Functions:

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

( ) y Sin x = ( ) y Cos x = ( ) y Tan x =

One-to-One? YES / NO One-to-One? YES / NO One-to-One? YES / NO

Looking at these three functions, they look very similar to our standard sine, cosine, and tangent graphs. The

big difference is they now all have a restricted domain. We’re only taking part of the function! In other words:

We’ve restricted the inputs for each of the functions so that they are now one-to-one.

Which means they have inverses.

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

x

y

( ) y Sin x =

Domain:

Range:

÷3 ÷2 ÷1 1 2 3

÷t

2

t

2

x

y

1

( ) y Sin x

÷

=

Domain:

Range:

3

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

x

y

( ) y Cos x =

Domain:

Range:

For this one, you draw the inverse!

÷3 ÷2 ÷1 1 2 3

÷t

2

t

2

x

y

1

( ) y Cos x

÷

=

Domain:

Range:

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

x

y

( ) y Tan x =

Domain:

Range:

÷3 ÷2 ÷1 1 2 3

÷t

2

t

2

x

y

1

( ) y Tan x

÷

=

Domain:

Range:

What is really important to notice here is that the range of the “Capital Letter Trig Functions” are the exact

same as the range of the “lower case letter trig functions.” We have all the outputs, but without the repeats

that happen because of periodicity.

Look at the inverse functions… The output of the inverse functions is an angle. What quadrants are the

outputs in?

1

( ) y Sin x

÷

= :

1

( ) y Cos x

÷

= :

1

( ) y Tan x

÷

= :

4

Put your calculator in degree mode.

1. Let’s solve the following equations using our calculators:

(a) sin( ) 0.6 u = (b) cos( ) 0.1 u = ÷ (c) tan( ) 5 u =

(d) cos( ) 0.2 u = (e) tan( ) 0.5 u = ÷ (f) cos( ) 0.9 u =

We know these equations have an infinite number of solutions. We will use our calculators to help us find

them. Let’s look specifically at (a)

To get u alone, we need to take the inverse sine of both sides:

1 1

sin( )) ( (0.6) Sin Sin u

÷ ÷

=

Why does that get u alone? Because we have learned that functions and their inverses undo each other.

Thus

1

sin( )) ( Sin u u

÷

= . So we know

1

(0.6) Sin u

÷

= .

Thus we get:

1

(0.6) 36.87

o

Sin u

÷

= ~

This is just one solution, instead of the infinite number of solutions. The reason we don’t get the infinite

number of solutions is because of our restricted domain.

By restricting the domain, we’ve given the calculator a way to solve these problems by creating an inverse

function and using that inverse function to find the angle.

2. Find one solution to the equations above, using your calculator.

(a)

(b)

(c)

(d)

(e) (f)

The big idea that I want you to take away from today is this:

Sine, cosine, and tangent do not have inverse functions. However, our calculators do have the inverse

function capabilities on it. What is it actually taking the inverse of, since we have established that sine,

cosine, and tangent do not have inverse functions?

In other words, what is the calculator doing, when we see a screenshot like this:

The answer is that in order for us to deal with sine, cosine, and tangent and have inverse functions, if

we restrict the domain, we will have one-to-one functions, meaning that they then have inverses.

5

Section 3: Why These Particular Restrictions?!? What if we had other restricted domains?

1. Could we have defined ( ) y Sin x = so that it

has a restricted domain of } { | 0 x x t s < ? If

so, is this a good choice for the restriction? If

not, why not?

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

2. Could we have defined ( ) y Sin x = so that it

has a restricted domain of

3 } | / 2 / 2 { x x t t s < ? If so, is this a good

choice for the restriction? If not, why not?

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

3. Could we have defined ( ) y Sin x = so that it

has a restricted domain of / 2 0} { | x x t s < ÷ ?

If so, is this a good choice for the restriction??

If not, why not?

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

4. Could we have defined ( ) y Tan x = so that it

has a restricted domain of

/ { | } 3 2 / 2 x x t t s < ÷ ÷ ? If so, is this a good

choice for the restriction?? If not, why not?

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

6

5. Could we have defined ( ) y Cos x = so that it

has a restricted domain of

/ 2 { / 2} | x x t t s < ÷ ? If so, is this a good

choice for the restriction? If not, why not?

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

÷4

÷3

÷2

÷1

1

2

3

4

x

y

6. What are the qualities we are looking for that makes a “restricted domain” of our trig graphs a good

one?

You may be wondering why the “official” ones were chosen, if there are many choices for the restricted

domain. They were chosen because they were “easy” to work with. That’s all. It was arbitrary.

7. Below is a graph for cos( ) y x = . Come up with a new restricted domain for ( ) y Cos x = (one that is

different than the restricted domain on the second page) that could also work…

÷7t

2

÷3t

÷5t

2

÷2t

÷3t

2

÷t

÷t

2

t

2

t

3t

2

2t

5t

2

3t

7t

2

÷1

1

x

y

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