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INDETERMINATE FORMS

When the value of a limit is obtained by substitution and it assumes any of the following forms, another method for
finding the limit must be used:

These are called indeterminate forms.

There are many methods of evaluating indeterminate forms. Two methods of evaluating indeterminate forms are (1)
factoring and (2) division of the numerator and denominator by powers of the variable.

Sometimes factoring will resolve an indeterminate form.

EXAMPLE: Find the limit of

SOLUTION: By substitution we find

which is an indeterminate form and is therefore excluded as a possible limit. We must now search for a method to find the
limit. Factoring is attempted, which results in

so that

and we have a determinate limit of 6.

Another indeterminate form is often met when we try to find the limit of a function as the independent variable
approaches infinity.

EXAMPLE: Find the limit of

SOLUTION: If we let x approach infinity -in the original expression, the result will be

which must be excluded as an indeterminate form. However, if we divide both numerator and denominator by
x 4 , we obtain
and we have a determinate limit of .

PRACTICE PROBLEMS:

Find the limit of the following:

ANSWERS:
Example 1.
Find the limit limx1x201x101.

Solution.
Direct substitution of x=1 yields the indeterminate form 00 at the point x=1. Therefore, we factor the
numerator to get
limx1x201x101=[00]=limx1(x10)21x101=limx1(x101)
(x10+1)x101=limx1(x10+1)=110+1=2.
Example 2.
Calculate limy2y3+3y2+2yy2y6.

Solution.
This is of the form at y=2. We factor the numerator and the denominator:
y3+3y2+2y=y(y2+3y+2)=y(y+1)(y+2).(Here we used the formula: ax2+bx+c= a(xx1)
(xx2), where x1, x2 are the solutions of the quadratic equation.)
Similarly,
y2y6=(y3)(y+2).Thus, the limit is
limy2y3+3y2+2yy2y6=[00]=limy2y(y+1)(y+2)(y3)
(y+2)=limy2y(y+1)y3=limy2ylimy2(y+1)limy2(y3)=2(1)5=25.(by the
quotient and product rules for limits).

Example 4.

Calculate the limit limx13x1x1.

Solution.

We write the denominator in the form


x1=(3x)313and factor it as difference of cubes:
x1=(3x)313=(3x1)(3x2+3x+1).As a result we have
limx13x1x1=[00]=limx13x1(3x1)
(3x2+3x+1)=limx113x2+3x+1=1312+31+1=13.

Example 5.

Find the limit limxcosx2x.

Solution.

Change the variable: x=t or x=t+. Then t0 as x. We have


L=limxcosx2x=[00]=limt0cost+2t.Transform the last expression using the reduction
formula cos(z+2)=sinz. As a result we find the limit of the function:
L=limt0cost+2t=limt0cost2t=limt20sint22t2=12limt20sint2t2=121=12.

Example 7.

Find the limit limx41+6x5x2.

Solution.
To calculate this limit we rationalize the numerator and denominator multiplying them by the corresponding
conjugate expressions:
limx41+6x5x2=[00]=limx4(1+6x25)(x+2)(1+6x+5)(x4)=limx46(x4)(x+2)
(1+6x+5)(x4)=6limx4x+21+6x+5=64+225+5=6410=125.

Example 9.

Find the limit limxelnx1xe.

Solution.

Let xe=t. Then t0 as xe. Hence,


limxelnx1xe=[00]=limt0ln(t+e)1t=limt0ln(t+e)
lnet=limt0(1tlnt+ee)=limt0ln(t+ee)1t=[1]=limt0ln(1+te)et1e=limt0[1eln(1+te)et
]=1eln[limte0(1+te)et]=1elne=1e.

INDETERMINATE FORMS

Although indeterminate forms usually show up when you are learning about L'Hpital's Rule, you do not
need to understand L'Hpital's Rule to learn about indeterminate forms here. Just skip the sentences about
L'Hpital's Rule if you have not studied it yet.

The word 'indeterminate' means unable to determine. When you have an indeterminate form the value cannot
be determinated. For example, 0/00/0 can mean 11 or 12271227 or or almost any number. There is

no way to tell without changing the form (fascinating, isn't it?). That's where L'Hpital's Rule comes in.
L'Hpital's Rule allows us to change the form into something else so that we CAN determine the value we are
looking for when it comes to limits. Here is a table of most of the indeterminate forms you will run across.

Determinate-Indeterminate Forms Table

Indeterminate Forms Determinate Forms

0/00/0 +=+=

// ==

0=00=0

0()0() 0=0=

0000 ()()=()()=

11

00

Types of Indeterminate Forms


From the discussion so far, it looks like we have a lot going on and there are a lot of cases in
the indeterminate forms table. However, there are really only four cases and only two
techniques you need to cover all the cases. Let's look at the cases.
Case 1 - - Indeterminate Quotients
In a perfect world, all your problems would be in this form because you can just
apply L'Hpital's Rule directly. These are problems where you already have a
limit in the form
limxan(x)d(x)limxan(x)d(x)
And, when you plug in x=ax=a, you get either 0/00/0 or //. In the
last indeterminate form with , the signs can be anything, so you have 4
possible cases. In any case, your problem is all set up to use L'Hpital's Rule and
you just directly apply the rule.
Case 2 - - Indeterminate Products
In this case, you have an determinate form that looks
like 0()0() or 0()0(), in which case you just need to do a little bit of
algebra to convert one of the pieces of the product into a denominator and you
end up with case 1. This sometimes takes some thinking. For example, if you
have
limx0+xln(x)limx0+xln(x), you can rewrite xx as 1/x11/x1 and the limit
now is
limx0+ln(x)/x1limx0+ln(x)/x1 where n(x)=ln(x)n(x)=ln(x) and d(x)=x1d(
x)=x1 and you have the indeterminate form // and you can use
L'Hpital's Rule.
Case 3 - - Indeterminate Differences
In this case, you have the indeterminate form that looks like and we
need a fraction to be able to apply L'Hpital's Rule. To get the right form, just
find a common a denominator and combine the terms to get an indeterminate
form that looks like case 1.
Case 4 - - Indeterminate Powers
In the previous three cases, you either started with a fraction in the right form
(case 1) or did some algebra to get your function into the right form (cases 2 and
3). In this case, you need another technique. The idea is that you have an
indeterminate form that looks like 0000, 11 or 00 and you need to get
some kind of fraction in order to apply L'Hpital's Rule. To do this we use the
natural logarithm. Let's go through a general example. We have the
limitlimxa[f(x)]g(x)limxa[f(x)]g(x) and [f(a)]g(a)[f(a)]g(a) is an indeterminate
power.
Set y=[f(x)]g(x)y=[f(x)]g(x) and take the natural log of both sides.
So that ln(y)=ln([f(x)]g(x))ln(y)=ln([f(x)]g(x)) and using the power rule
for logarithms, we have ln(y)=g(x)ln[f(x)]ln(y)=g(x)ln[f(x)].
We take the limit of ln(y)ln(y) using one cases 1-3 above to get a value LL, which
may be finite or infinite.
To get the final answer, we 'undo' the natural log by putting LL in the exponent
of ee giving eLeL.
This discussion in the cases above may be a bit confusing, especially case 4, but, if you look
at the second example coming up, we will use this idea to show that 11 is indeterminate.

The indeterminate forms table above shows most of the indeterminate forms that you will run
across. However, you do not need to memorize these forms to determine if you need to use
L'Hpital's Rule. There is an easier way. All you need to remember is that indeterminate form
is 0/00/0 and determinate form is c/0=c/0= where c0c0. Then use the ideas in

one of the above cases to get the fraction 0/00/0. Let's do some examples.