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MODULE 1 – Limits and Continuity

Lesson 3: Infinite Limits


Review: Large Numbers

It will be helpful to remember a couple of simple things about fractions or ratios. Let’s use 0+
to indicate a small positive number and 0- to indicate a small-magnitude number. Then
𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
 = 𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑔𝑒 𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
0+
𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
 = 𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑔𝑒 − 𝑚𝑎𝑔𝑛𝑖𝑡𝑢𝑑𝑒 𝑛𝑒𝑔𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
0−
𝑛𝑒𝑔𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
 = 𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑔𝑒 − 𝑚𝑎𝑔𝑛𝑖𝑡𝑢𝑑𝑒 𝑛𝑒𝑔𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
0+
𝑛𝑒𝑔𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
 = 𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑔𝑒 𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑢𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟
0−

1.2 −0.2
For example, 0− represents a large-magnitude negative number, while represents a large
0−
positive number. Now let’s look at an actual function.
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Example. Let 𝑓(𝑥) = 𝑥−1. Examine the behavior of f near x = 1.

Solution: f(x) is a rational function the point x = 1 is not in its domain. However near x = 1,
we can make a table of values and plot its graph.

x<1 f(x) x>1 f(x)


0.9 -10 1.1 10 As x→1- we see f(x)→
1
and
0−
0.99 -100 1.01 100 1
as x→1+ we see f(x)→
0.999 -1000 1.001 1000 0+

0.9999 -10000 1.0001 10000


0.99999 -100000 1.00001 100000

You may recognize the graph of f(x) above as having a vertical asymptote at x = 1. However,
when we are interested in the values of a function near some point, we should realize that
1 1
we are talking about limits. In the case of 𝑓(𝑥) = 𝑥−1, clearly lim 𝑥−1 does not exist. However
𝑥→1
we can still say something useful about the behavior of the function near 1. Because the
values of f(x) grow arbitrarily large or increase without bound as x→1+, we write
lim+ 𝑓(𝑥) = +∞. The infinity symbol means that f(x) is getting large. It is not a number and
𝑥→1
the limit still does not exist in the original sense of the term. Likewise, we write
lim− 𝑓(𝑥) = −∞ because the values of f(x) decrease without bound as x→1-.
𝑥→1

Infinite Limits

The following definitions of various infinite limits are informal, but for most situations in this
subject, they will be adequate.

Suppose that f is defined for all x near a. We write lim 𝑓(𝑥) = +∞ and say that the limit
𝑥→𝑎
of f(x) as x approaches a is infinity if f(x) becomes arbitrarily large for all x sufficiently
close to (but not equal to) a.

We write lim 𝑓(𝑥) = −∞ and say that the limit of f(x) as x approaches a is negative
𝑥→𝑎
infinity if f(x) is negative and becomes arbitrarily large in magnitude for all x sufficiently
close to (but not equal to) a.
2
Determine lim |𝑥|.
𝑥→0

2
Solution: Notice that this limit does not exist in the usual sense since it is of the form 0 .
2
Intuitively, we should recognize that the values of |𝑥| are becoming large in magnitude as
x→0. We will deal with most infinite limits either graphically or informally. A table of values
and a quick plot confirms this. In this case.

x<1 f(x) x>1 f(x) As x→0 we see f(x)


-0.1 20 0.1 20 increases without bound so
-0.01 200 0.01 200 lim 𝑓(𝑥) = +∞
𝑥→0
-0.001 2000 0.001 2000
-0.0001 20000 0.0001 20000

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Thus, lim |𝑥| = +∞.
𝑥→0

In the above example, f increased without bound from both sides of 0. In the first example, f
increased without bound from right sides of 1 and decreased without bound from left side.
Naturally, this leads to the notion of one-sided infinite limits. There are four possible
behaviors that can occur.

Suppose that f is defined for all x near a with x>a.


 We write lim+ 𝑓(𝑥) = +∞ if f(x) becomes arbitrarily large for all x sufficiently
𝑥→𝑎
close to a with x>a.
 Similarly, we write lim+ 𝑓(𝑥) = −∞ if f(x) is negative and becomes arbitrarily
𝑥→𝑎
large in magnitude for all x sufficiently close to a with x>a.
Now suppose that f is defined for x near a with x<a.
 We write lim− 𝑓(𝑥) = +∞ if f(x) becomes arbitrarily large for all x sufficiently
𝑥→𝑎
close to a with x<a.
 Similarly, we write lim− 𝑓(𝑥) = −∞ if f(x) is negative and becomes arbitrarily
𝑥→𝑎
large in magnitude for all x sufficiently close to a with x<a.

1 1
Note: In the first example, we saw that lim+ = +∞ and lim− = −∞. These limits still
𝑥→1 𝑥−1 𝑥→1 𝑥−1
do not exist in the usual sense. ±∞ is just a short-hand notation to describe the behavior of
a function near a point.

Tip: Most infinite limits should be evaluated as one-sided limits. Often a function will exhibit
very different behavior on either side of a point where the function is becoming unbounded.

Vertical Asymptotes

At a point where a function becomes large in magnitude, the graph appears almost vertical.
To describe this, we use the following terminology.

If lim+ 𝑓(𝑥) = ±∞ or if lim− 𝑓(𝑥) = ±∞ we say that the line x = a is a vertical


𝑥→𝑎 𝑥→𝑎
asymptote of f.
Wherever there is an infinite limit, there is a vertical asymptote. The limit gives us a bit more
information in that it specifies whether the function is increasing or decreasing without
bound. Knowing only that x = a is a vertical asymptote only tells us that the function is
unbounded. A familiar example will illustrate these ideas.

Let 𝑓(𝑥) = tan 𝑥 on the interval [-2.5, 2.5] as shown below.

The graph of tan x and two of its vertical asymptotes.


Make sure you know the values of the trig functions at the
Determine each of the following limits
standard angles, especially those in the first quadrant.

1. lim𝜋− 𝑓(𝑥) 2. lim + 𝑓(𝑥) 3. lim𝜋 𝑓(𝑥)


𝑥→− 𝑥→−
𝜋 𝑥→− 𝜃 0 𝜋 ⁄6 𝜋 ⁄4 𝜋 ⁄3 𝜋 ⁄2
2 2 2
sin 𝜃 0 1⁄ √2⁄ √3⁄ 1
4. lim− 𝑓(𝑥) 5. lim+ 𝑓(𝑥) 6. lim 𝑓(𝑥) 2 2 2
𝑥→0 𝑥→0 𝑥→0 cos 𝜃 1 √3⁄ √2⁄ 1⁄ 0
7. lim 𝑓(𝑥) 8. lim+ 𝑓(𝑥) 9. lim𝜋 𝑓(𝑥) 2 2 2
𝜋−
𝑥→
2 𝑥→
𝜋 𝑥→
2
tan 𝜃 0 √3⁄ 1 √3 und
2 3

10. Where does f(x) have vertical asymptotes?

sin 𝑥 𝜋
B We know that tan 𝑥 = cos 𝑥 is not defined at ± 2 .
1. Using the graph, the values of tan x are negative grow arbitrarily large and
𝜋
magnitude as x approaches − 2 from the left. So lim𝜋− tan 𝑥 = −∞ . This
𝑥→−
2
𝜋
already means that 𝑥 = − 2 is a vertical asymptote for tan x.
𝜋
2. The values of tan x are grow arbitrarily large as x approaches − 2 from the
right. So lim + tan 𝑥 = +∞.
𝜋
𝑥→−
2
𝜋
3. Since the two one-sided limits at − 2 differ, lim𝜋 tan 𝑥 DNE.
𝑥→−
2
4. As x approaches 0 from either side, we see that tan x approaches 0 so
lim− tan 𝑥 = lim+ tan 𝑥 = 0. Further, x = 0 is not a vertical asymptote for tan x.
𝑥→0 𝑥→0
7. The values of tan x are negative grow arbitrarily large and magnitude as x
𝜋 𝜋
approaches 2 from the left. So lim𝜋−
tan 𝑥 = −∞. This means that 𝑥 = 2 is a
𝑥→
2
vertical asymptote for tan x.
𝜋
8. The values of tan x grow arbitrarily large as x approaches from the right. So
2
lim+ tan 𝑥 = +∞.
𝜋
𝑥→
2
𝜋
9. As with we see lim𝜋 tan 𝑥 DNE.
2 𝑥→
2
𝜋
10. There were two vertical asymptotes at 𝑥 = ± 2 . More generally, tan x will have
𝜋
a vertical asymptote at any odd multiple of 2 .

Determining Infinite Limits

Many of the infinite limits that we will need to determine will arise from rational functions
or other functions that involve quotients. We look for infinite limits where such functions are
not defined. This typically means locating points where the denominators of such functions
are 0. Since graphing may be time consuming (and since calculators sometimes give
inaccurate graphs), we will use the simple analytic method outlined in Section 0 a few pages
back. Let’s try several examples.
𝑥+1
A. Find the vertical asymptote and infinite limits for 𝑓(𝑥) = 𝑥−2.
Solution: This is a rational function which is continuous for all x except where the
denominator is 0, namely, x = 2. Examine the one-sided limit.
→3

𝑥+1
lim− = −∞
𝑥→2 ⏟ 𝑥−2
→0−

The numerator approaches 3 while the denominator is negative and approaching 0.


So, the quotient is negative and large magnitude. Similarly,
→3

𝑥+1
lim+ = +∞
𝑥→2 𝑥−2

→0+

Either one-sided limit shows that x=2 is a vertical asymptote.


𝑥+1
However, lim 𝑥−2 DNE.
𝑥→2

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B. Evaluate lim 𝑥 2 .
𝑥→0
Solution: As with previous example, let’s start off by looking the two one-sided
limits. Once we have those we’ll be able to determine a value for the limit.

So, let’s look at the right-hand limit first and as noted above let’s see if we can figure
out what each limit will be doing without plugging in any values of x into the
function. As we take smaller and smaller values of x, while staying positive, squaring
them will only make them smaller (recall squaring a number between zero and one
will make it smaller) and of course it will stay positive. So, we have a positive constant
divided by an increasingly small positive number. The result should then be an
increasingly large positive number. It looks like we should have the following value
for the right-hand limit in this case,
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lim+ 2 = +∞
𝑥→0 𝑥
Now, let’s take a look at the left-hand limit. In this case we’re going to take smaller
and smaller values of x, while staying negative this time. When we square them they’ll
get smaller, but upon squaring the result is now positive. So, we have a positive
constant divided by an increasingly small positive number. The result, as with the
right-hand limit, will be an increasingly large positive number and so the left-hand
limit will be,
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lim− = +∞
𝑥→0 𝑥 2
Now, in this example, unlike the first one, the limit will exist and be infinity since the
two one-sided limits both exist and have the same value. Looking at the graph below,
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it shows that lim 𝑥 2 = +∞.
𝑥→0

ASSESSMENT
A. Consider the graph of f(x) given below and compute the limits.

1. lim 𝑓(𝑥) 2. lim + 𝑓(𝑥) 3. lim 𝑓(𝑥)


𝑥→−1− 𝑥→−1 𝑥→−1
4. lim− 𝑓(𝑥) 5. lim+ 𝑓(𝑥) 6. lim 𝑓(𝑥)
𝑥→2 𝑥→2 𝑥→2
B. Consider the graph of f(x) given below.

At what values of x does f(x) has an infinite limit (as x approaches this value)? Write
down the side limits.

C. Compute the following limits (both sides). Use a graphing device if necessary.
𝑥+1
1. lim 𝑥−2
𝑥→2
𝑥 2 −3𝑥−1
2. lim
𝑥→3 𝑥−3
𝑒 𝑥−2
3. lim
𝑥→2 𝑥−2
𝑥 2 −4𝑥+3
4. lim 𝑥 2 −2𝑥+1
𝑥→3
cos(2𝑥)
5. lim
𝑥→𝜋 sin(𝑥)
sin 𝑥
6. lim 1−cos 𝑥
𝑥→0

D. Use limits to determine the equations for all vertical asymptotes. Check your answer
using a graphing device.
𝑥 2 +4
1. 𝑓(𝑥) = 𝑥−3
𝑥 2 −𝑥−2
2. 𝑓(𝑥) = 𝑥 2 −2𝑥+1
𝑥 2 +𝑥−6
3. 𝑓(𝑥) = 𝑥 2 +2𝑥−8