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Limits at Infinity

Lecture Notes

To understand the ideas in chapter 8, we will need to have a better understanding of limits at
infinity. We begin with a few examples.
EXAMPLE 1 Find lim

8_

SOLUTION

#8 %
.
8"

Note that both the numerator and denominator of the fraction are approaching

infinity. However, the ratio of two infinities may be anythingit depends on how they compare.
Let's try plugging in some values for 8:
8

#8 %

8"

"!

#%

""

#8 %
8"
#")")

"!!

#!%

"!"

#!"*)

"!!!

#,!!%

",!!"

#!!#!

"!,!!!

#!,!!%

"!,!!"

#!!!#

For large values of 8, the numerator #8 % is almost exactly twice the denominator 8 ", so
the ratio approaches #. What's happening is that the constants % and " are becoming less and less
important as 8 grows larger: two billion and four isn't very different from two billion. As
8 _, these constants play no role in the outcome:
#8 %
#8
lim
#.
8_ 8 "
8_ 8
lim

In general, when finding a limit as 8 _, it is usually only necessary to pay attention to the
largest term of a sum. For a polynomial, this is the term with the highest power of 8:
8# &8
.
8_ " %8$

EXAMPLE 2 Find lim


SOLUTION

The only significant term in the denominator is the %8$ , and the only significant

term in the numerator is the 8# . (The &8 is completely dwarfed by the 8# as 8 _. It is the

difference between infinity and infinity squared.) Therefore:


8# &8
8#
lim

!.
8_ " %8#
8_ %8$
lim

The goal of these notes is to expand upon these ideas. This material is not discussed in the
text, but it should be. Once you get the hang of it, the methods presented here will let you
evaluate limits much more quickly, and will help to develop your intuition for how functions
behave as 8 _. This intuition will prove useful again and again in the most difficult parts of
chapter 8.

The Asymptotic Hierarchy

DEFINITION
Let e+8 f and e,8 f be sequences. We say that +8 is much smaller than ,8 as 8 _, and write
+8 ,8

as 8 _

if
lim

8_

,8
_.
+8

Note that the symbol , which means is much smaller than or is much less than, consists of
two less than symbols ( ) in a row.
EXAMPLE 3 For a basic example, observe that 8 is much smaller than 8# as 8 _, since
8#
lim
_. More generally, 8: 8; whenever : ; :
8_ 8
$

8 8 8 8 # 8 $ .

EXAMPLE 4 Which is larger: 8& or #8 ? The following table compares these sequences for
different values of 8:

8&

#8

&

$,"#&

$#

"!

"!!,!!!

", !#%

"&

(&*,$(&

$#,(')

#!

)!!,!!!

",!%),&('

&!

$"#,&!!,!!!

","#&,)**,*!',)%#,'#%

"!!

"!,!!!,!!!,!!!

",#'(,'&!,'!!,##),##*,%!",%*',(!$,#!&,$('

As you can see, #8 is much larger than 8& as 8 _, so


#8
_.
8_ 8&
lim

It may surprise you that #"!! is so much larger than "!!& . The idea is that multiplication is
very powerful: #"!! is larger because it is the product of "!! different things, while "!!& is the
product of only five things. For this same reason, any exponential function will be much larger
than any power of 8 as 8 _, e.g.
a"!"b8
_.
8_ 8"!!

lim

EXAMPLE 5 Here is a table comparing 8 and log 8 for different vales of 8:


8

log 8

"!!

"!

"!,!!!

"!!

",!!!,!!!

'

"!!!

"!!,!!!,!!!

"!,!!!

Clearly log 8 is much, much smaller than 8, so lim

8_

8
log 8

_.

Indeed, although log 8 _ as 8 _, it does so more slowly than any positive power
of 8. For example:
8!!"
_.
8_ log 8
lim

Note that logarithms with different bases are simply multiples of one another. For example,
ln 8

log 8
#$ log 8.
log /

EXAMPLE 6 Recall that any exponential function is larger than any power of 8.

The

exponential functions fit into a hierarchy:


#8 $8 %8
Is anything larger than all of these?
Yes. Recall that the factorial of 8 (written 8x) is the product of all numbers from " to 8:
8x " # $ % 8
It is not hard to see that 8x must be larger than #8 . For example, here is a comparison of #"!! and
"!!x:
#"!! # # # # #
"!!x " # $ % "!!
Both are the product of "!! different factors, but in the case of "!!x most of the factors are much
larger than #. For this same reason, 8x will be larger than +8 for any base +.
Much larger than even 8x is the sequence 88 . For example:
"!!x

" # $ ** "!!

"!!"!! "!! "!! "!! "!! "!!


For comparison, #"!! is a 31-digit number, "!!x is a 158-digit number, and "!!"!! is a 201-digit

number.
We now have a fairly clear picture of the hierarchy of functions:

THE ASYMPTOTIC HIERARCHY


ln 8
8 8 8#
#8 $8 8x 88
exponentials
powers of 8

Knowing the order of functions in this hierarchy can make certain limits very easy to evaluate:

Let e+8 f and e,8 f be sequences of positive numbers.


(a) If +8 ,8 as 8 _, then lim

8_

+8
!.
,8

+8
_.
8_ ,8

(b) If +8 ,8 as 8 _, then lim

EXAMPLE 7 Evaluate the following limits:


ln 8
8_ 8$

(a) lim

&8
8_ 8x

(b) lim

#8
8_ 8$

(c) lim

SOLUTION

(a) The limit is ! since ln 8 8$ .


(b) The limit is ! since &8 8x.
(c) The limit is _ since #8 8$ .

There are two other rules you should be aware of. The first is that adding small functions
together yields a small function:
If +8 and ,8 are both much smaller than -8 , then +8 ,8 -8 .
For example, 8 ln 8 8( #8 as 8 _.
The second is that the notion of "much smaller than" is unaffected by constants: So:
If +8 ,8 , then G +8 H,8 for any nonzero constants G and H.
For example, "!! 8$ "# 8% as 8 _ since 8$ 8% .
)8$ $8 ln 8 &8
.
8_
8x

EXAMPLE 8 Find lim


SOLUTION

The entire numerator is much smaller than 8x as 8 _, so the limit is !.

Asymptotic Equivalence
Consider the limit
8$ (
8_ &8$ ln 8
lim

Though the numerator is 8$ (, the ( won't contribute very much when 8 is large, so we can
think of the numerator as just 8$ . Similarly, since ln 8 &8$ , it is reasonable to ignore the ln 8
and think of the denominator as just &8$ . Therefore:
8$ (
8$
"

lim

8_ &8$ ln 8
8_ &8$
&
lim

Unfortunately, this kind of reasoning can be dangerous. Consider the limit:


lim 8# %8 8#

8_

It might seem that the %8 under the first square root isn't contributing much, so that:
?
lim 8# %8 8#

8_

lim 8# 8# !

8_

But this is not correct: the actual value of the limit is # (see example 12 below). How can we
tell whether it's legitimate to ignore smaller terms?

DEFINITION
We say that two sequences e+8 f and e,8 f are asymptotically equivalent, and write
+ 8 ,8

as 8 _

if
+8
".
8_ ,8
lim

Asymptotic equivalence is our basic notion of being "essentially the same". For example, in the
limit
8$ (
,
8_ &8$ ln 8
lim

the numerator is asymptotically equivalent to 8$ , and the denominator is asymptotically


equivalent to &8$ . These are both instances of the following rule:
If +8 ,8 , then +8 ,8 +8 as 8 _.

EXAMPLE 9 The sequence 8$ $8# '8 ln 8 is asymptotically equivalent to e8$ f,


since $8# '8 ln 8 8$ .

The following theorem lets us use this notion to compute limits:

THEOREM
1. Asymptotically equivalent sequences have the same limit. That is, if +8 ,8 as 8 _, then
lim +8 lim ,8

8_

8_

2. (Products and Quotients) If +8 E8 and ,8 F8 , then


+ 8 , 8 E8 F 8

and

+8
E8

.
,8
F8

EXAMPLE 10 To compute the limit


8$ (
,
8_ &8$ ln 8
lim

we first observe that 8$ ( 8$ and &8$ ln 8 &8$ . Using part 2 of the theorem, we
conclude that
8$ (
8$

.
$
&8 ln 8
&8$
and therefore, using part 1 of the theorem
8$ (
8$
"

lim
.
8_ &8$ ln 8
8_ &8$
&
lim

Of course, you don't need to give as much detail as this when you're doing calculations. Just
keep in mind that replacing the numerator or denominator of a fraction is safe:
$8# (8 #8 ln 8
.
8_
&8# 8 8x

EXAMPLE 11 Find lim


SOLUTION

The #8 is the largest term in the numerator, and the 8x is the largest term in the

denominator. Therefore,
$8# (8 #8 ln 8
#8

lim
!.
8_
8_ 8x
&8# 8 8x
lim

Here are two more rules that are sometimes helpful:

THEOREM

Suppose that +8 ,8 as 8 _. Then

1. a+8 b a,8 b: for any constant power :. In particular,


:

+ 8 ,8 .
2. Assuming that +8 ,8 _ as 8 _:
lna+8 b lna,8 b

EXAMPLE 12 Find lim

8# '8 %
$8 "

8_

SOLUTION

Observe that 8# '8 % 8# 8. Therefore:


lim

8_

8# '8 %
$8 "

lim

8_

8
"

$8
$

8 8
.
8_ lna#8 8$ "b

EXAMPLE 13 Find lim


SOLUTION Since

# 8 8 $ " #8 ,

we

see

that

lna#8 8$ "b lna#8 b 8 ln #.

Therefore:
8 8
8
"
lim

8
$
8_ lna# 8 "b
8_ 8 ln #
ln #

lim

Note that it is not safe to make replacements inside of other functions. For example, /8 8 is not
#

asymptotically equivalent to /8 . In fact,


#

/8 8
lim 8# lim /8 _.
8_ /
8_
Similarly, a8 "b8 is not equivalent to 88 , and a8 "bx is not asymptotically equivalent to 8x.
You can also run into trouble with subtractions. For a very basic example, observe that the
following calculation is clearly wrong:
lim $8# & $8# # lim $8# $8# !

8_

8_

(WRONG)

The problem is that the big terms are canceling, so the smaller terms ( & and #) become
important, and cannot be ignored. Here is a more complicated example:

EXAMPLE 14 Find lim 8# %8 8# .


8_

SOLUTION

The main point is that the answer isn't zero:


lim 8# %8 8# lim 8# 8# !

8_

8_

(WRONG)

Because the 8# terms are canceling, the part of 8# %8 that comes from the %8 is critically
important, and cannot be ignored.
In case you're curious, one way of evaluating this limit is to use the conjugate expression:
lim 8# %8 8# lim

8_

8# %8 8# 8# %8 8#
8# %8 8#

8_

a8# %8b a8# b


%8
lim
8_ 8# %8 8#
8_ 8# 8 8

lim

But 8# 8 8# 8, so
lim 8# %8 8# lim

8_

8_

%8
#.
88

In general, it's ok to replace the terms in an addition or subtraction as long as nothing cancels to
zero. For example, in the above calculation we used the fact that:
8 8# 8 8 8# #8
This was perfectly legitimate, since the addition isn't causing any cancellation.
Here is one final example illustrating everything we have learned:

EXAMPLE 15 Find lim

8' % ln 8 #8 8#

8_

SOLUTION

lna8( "b %8$ "!!8

First, note that

8' % ln 8 8' 8$

and

lna8( "b lna8( b ( ln 8

as 8 _. Therefore,
lim

8_

8' % ln 8 #8 8#
lna8( "b %8$ "!!8

8 $ # 8 8 #
8_ ( ln 8 %8$ "!!8

lim

8$
"

$
8_ %8
%

lim

EXERCISES
18 Evaluate the limit.

1522 Evaluate the limit.


8 8
8_ ln 8

15. lim

#8
8_ /8

16. lim

8&
8_ /8

2. lim

88
8_ 8x

4. lim

/#8
8_ 8x

6. lim

lna$8 b
8_
8

8. lim

1. lim

3. lim

5. lim

8_

7. lim

8'
8%

#8
8_ & %8

8' #8 "

8_

&8"! #
8_ a8# "b&
lna8& "b
8_ " ln 8

17. lim

8# %8$ "
8_ lna8 $b #8#

18. lim

8 lna#8 b

19. lim
914 Evaluate the limit.
8# "
8_ 8$ "

9. lim

10. lim

8_

8 #8 $8#
8# "

a8xb# "
$
8_ 8&
8

11. lim

)8& %8# $8
8_ 8( #8 & ln 8

" #8$

8_

20. lim

&8 lna8# b

8# #8 &
8 lna8# "b

8_

8# & * 8 (
8_
/ 8 $8 "

21. lim

22. lim

8_

8 $8 ln 8

" lna88 8xb

12. lim

8# %8 "
13. lim
8_
8 #8

# 8 $ 8 88
8_
8x

14. lim

2324 Evaluate the limit.


#

/8 " 8$
23. lim
#
8_ " 8 /8

24. lim

8_

*8# 8 8#
%8 "