You are on page 1of 6

Arkansas Tech University

MATH 2914: Calculus I
Dr. Marcel B. Finan
7 The Limit of a Function
In this section we discuss the first topic of calculus which is the concept of a
limit. We first introduce what is called a sided limit.
Left-Hand and Right-Hand Limits
Conisder the function shown in Figure 7.1.
Figure 7.1
Notice the following about this graph. Given a small number > 0 you can
create the interval (L − , L) as shown in the Figure 7.1. Also, you can find
a positive number δ and the interval (a − δ, a). Now if you pick any number
x in the interval (a − δ, a), that is a − x < δ, you notice that L − f(x) < .
More formally, if f(x) satisfies the property that for every > 0 (as small as
we want) we can find a δ > 0 (sufficiently small) such that if a −x < δ (that
is x is in the interval (a−δ, a)) then |f(x)−L| < (i.e. f(x) is in the interval
(L − , L) if f is increasing or in the interval (L, L + ) if f is decreasing)
then we say that L is the left-hand limit of f(x) as x approaches a (with
x = a). Symbolically, we write
lim
x→a

f(x) = L.
Likewise, if f(x) satisfies the property that for every > 0 (as small as we
want) we can find a δ > 0 (sufficiently small) such that if x − a < δ (that is
x is in the interval (a, a + δ)) then |f(x) − L| < then we say that L is the
1
right-hand limit of f(x) as x approaches a (with x = a). See Figure 7.2.
Symbolically, we write
lim
x→a
+
f(x) = L.
Figure 7.2
The Limit of a Function
The limit of a function can be defined in terms of left-hand limit and right-
hand limit. We say that f(x) approaches L as x approaches a (from either
direction with x = a) if and only if
lim
x→a

f(x) = lim
x→a
+
f(x) = L.
In this case, we write
lim
x→a
f(x) = L.
This definition says that for every > 0 (as small as we want) we can find a
δ > 0 (sufficiently small) such that if |x − a| < δ (that is x is in the interval
(a−δ, a+δ)) then |f(x)−L| < (that is f(x) is in the interval (L−, L+)).
Example 7.1 (Graphical evaluation of a limit)
Evaluate graphically, lim
θ→0
sin θ
θ
.
Solution.
The graph of f(θ) =
sin θ
θ
is given by Figure 7.3. From this, we see that
lim
θ→0
sin θ
θ
= 1
2
Figure 7.3
Example 7.2 (Evaluating a limit numerically)
Evaluate numerically lim
t→0
16(2+t)
2
−16(2)
2
t
.
Solution.
t -.2 -.1 -.01 -0.001 0 .0001 .001 .01
16(2+t)
2
−16(2)
2
t
60.8 62.4 63.84 63.98 undefined 64.0016 64.016 64.16
From the table we conclude that
lim
t→0
16(2 + t)
2
− 16(2)
2
t
= 64
Properties of Limits
Using the formal definition of a limit using and δ is difficult for complex
functions. Instead, a set of very useful results were established:
lim
x→a
[af(x) + bg(x)] =a

lim
x→a
f(x)

+ b

lim
x→a
g(x)

(1)
lim
x→a
[f(x)g(x)] =

lim
x→a
f(x)

·

lim
x→a
g(x)

(2)
lim
x→a
x =a (3)
lim
x→a
c =c (4)
lim
x→c
(a
n
x
n
+ a
n−1
x
n−1
+ · · · + a
1
x + a
0
) =a
n
c
n
+ a
n−1
c
n−1
+ · · · + a
1
c + a
0
(5)
lim
x→a
f(x)
g(x)
=
lim
x→a
f(x)
lim
x→a
g(x)
(6)
3
provided that lim
x→a
g(x) = 0.
Example 7.3 (Evaluating a limit algebraically)
Use algebra to find lim
t→0
16(2+t)
2
−16(2)
2
t
.
Solution.
Expanding the numerator gives
16(2 + t)
2
− 16(2)
2
t
=
16t
2
+ 64t
t
.
Thus,
lim
t→0
16(2 + t)
2
− 16(2)
2
t
= lim
t→0
(16t + 64) = 64
Generalizing the idea of instantaneous velocity, we define the instantaneous
rate of change of a function y = f(x) at x = a to be
lim
x→a
f(x) − f(a)
x − a
or alternatively, by letting h = x − a
lim
h→0
f(a + h) − f(a)
h
Example 7.4
Evaluate
lim
h→0
f(a + h) − f(a)
h
when f(x) = x
2
.
Solution.
Since f(x + h) = (x + h)
2
= x
2
+ 2xh + h
2
and f(x) = x
2
, we have
lim
h→0
f(a + h) − f(a)
h
= lim
h→0
2xh + h
2
h
= lim
h→0
(2x + h) = 2x
Examples of Non-existing Limits
Thus far we have considered functions with exisiting limits. In the next
several examples, we look at functions with no limits at a given point.
4
Example 7.5
Find lim
x→0
|x|
x
.
Solution.
Finding the left-hand limit we obtain
lim
x→0

|x|
x
= lim
x→0

−x
x
= −1.
Finding the right-hand limit we obtain
lim
x→0
+
|x|
x
= lim
x→0
+
x
x
= 1.
Since the left-hand limit is different from the right-hand limit, we conclude
that lim
x→0
|x|
x
does not exist
Example 7.6
Show, graphically, that lim
x→0
1
x
does not exist.
Solution.
The graph of f(x) =
1
x
is
It follows that both left-hand and right-hand limits do not exist. Hence,
lim
x→0
1
x
does not exist
Example 7.7
Show, numerically, that lim
x→0
sin

1
x

does not exist.
Solution.
Consider the following tables
5
x sin

1
x


2
π
−1

2

1

2

−1

2

1
.
.
.
x sin

1
x

2
π
1
2

−1
2

1
2

−1
.
.
.
It follows that both left-hand and right-hand limits do not exist. Hence,
lim
x→0
sin

1
x

does not exist
Limits at Infinity
If the variable x increases without bound or decreases without bound while
the function f approaches a value K then we write
lim
x→−∞
f(x) = L or lim
x→∞
f(x) = L.
Geometrically, we call the line y = L a horizontal asymptote.
Example 7.8
Find, graphically, lim
x→−∞
1
x
and lim
x→∞
1
x
.
Solution.
From the graph (See Example 7.6) we see that
lim
x→±∞
1
x
= 0
6