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Cotangent

In this unit we explain what is meant by the three trigonometric ratios cosecant, secant and

cotangent. We see how they can appear in trigonometric identities and in the solution of

trigonometrical equations. Finally, we obtain graphs of the functions cosec θ, sec θ and cot θ

from knowledge of the related functions sin θ, cos θ and tan θ.

In order to master the techniques explained here it is vital that you undertake the practice

exercises provided.

After reading this text, and/or viewing the video tutorial on this topic, you should be able to:

Contents

1. Introduction 2

2. Deﬁnitions of cosecant, secant and cotangent 2

3. The graph of cosec θ 4

4. The graph of sec θ 5

5. The graph of cot θ 6

1

c mathcentre December 17, 2003

1. Introduction

This unit looks at three new trigonometric functions cosecant (cosec), secant (sec) and cotangent

(cot). These are not entirely new because they are derived from the three functions sine, cosine

and tangent.

These functions are deﬁned as follows:

Key Point

1 1 1

cosec θ = sec θ = cot θ =

sin θ cos θ tan θ

These functions are useful in the solution of trigonometrical equations, they can appear in

trigonometric identities, and they can arise in calculus problems, particularly in integration.

Example

Consider the trigonometric identity

sin2 θ + cos2 θ = 1

sin2 θ cos2 θ 1

2

+ 2

=

cos θ cos θ cos2 θ

This can be rewritten as 2 2

sin θ 1

+1=

cos θ cos θ

that is as

tan2 θ + 1 = sec2 θ

This, in case you are not already aware, is a common trigonometrical identity involving sec θ.

Example

Consider again the trigonometric identity

sin2 θ + cos2 θ = 1

Suppose this time we divide everything on both sides by sin2 θ; this produces

sin2 θ cos2 θ 1

2 + 2 =

sin θ sin θ sin2 θ

c mathcentre December 17, 2003 2

This can be rewritten as 2 2

cos θ 1

1+ =

sin θ sin θ

that is as

1 + cot2 θ = cosec2 θ

Again, we see one of our new trigonometric functions, cosec θ, appearing in an identity.

Example

Suppose we wish to solve the trigonometrical equation

√ √

cot θ = 3 or − 3

1 √ √

= 3 or − 3

tan θ

Inverting we ﬁnd

1 1

tan θ = √ or −√

3 3

1

The angle whose tangent is √ is one of the special angles described in the unit Trigonometrical

3

1

ratios in a right-angled triangle. In fact √ is the tangent of 30◦ . So this is one solution of the

3

equation tan θ = √13 . What about other solutions ?

We refer to a graph of the function tan θ as shown in Figure 1.

tan θ

◦ ◦

30 210

√1 ◦ ◦ ◦

3 90 180◦ 270 360

θ

− √1

3 ◦ ◦

150 330

From the graph we see that the next solution of tan θ = √1

3

is 210◦ (that is 180◦ further along).

From the same graph we can also deduce, by consideration of symmetry, that the angles whose

1

tangent is − √ are 150◦ and 330◦ .

3

3

c mathcentre December 17, 2003

In summary, the equation cot2 θ = 3 has solutions

θ = 30◦ , 150◦ , 210◦ , 330◦

So, solving equations involving cosec, sec and cot can often be solved by simply turning them

into equations involving the more familiar functions sin, cos and tan.

We study the graph of cosec θ by ﬁrst studying the graph of the closely related function sin θ,

one cycle of the graph of which is shown in Figure 2.

sin θ

A

1

C D

θ

0 90◦ 180◦ 270

◦

360

◦

−1 B

The graph of cosec θ can be deduced from the graph of sin θ because cosec θ = sin1 θ . Note that

when θ = 90◦ , sin θ = 1 and hence cosec θ = 1 as well. Similarly when θ = 270◦ , sin θ = −1

and hence cosec θ = −1 as well. These observations enable us to plot two points on the graph

of cosec θ. The corresponding points are marked A and B in both Figures 2 and 3. When

θ = 0, sin θ = 0, but because we can never divide by 0 we cannot evaluate cosec θ in this way.

However, note that if θ is very small and positive (i.e. close to, but not equal to zero) sin θ

1

will be small and positive, and hence will be large and positive. Points marked C on the

sin θ ◦

graphs represent this. Similarly when θ = 180 , sin θ = 0 and again we cannot divide by zero to

ﬁnd cosec 180◦ . Suppose we look at values of θ just below 180◦ . Here, sin θ is small and positive,

so once again cosec θ will be large and positive (points D).

These observations enable us to gradually build up the graph as shown in Figure 3. The vertical

dotted lines on the graph are called asymptotes.

cosec θ

C D

1 A

0 ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ θ

90 180 270 360

−1

B

c mathcentre December 17, 2003 4

Note that when θ is just slightly greater than 180◦ then sin θ is small and negative, so that

cosec θ is large and negative as shown in Figure 3. Continuing in this way the full graph of

cosec θ can be constructed.

In Figure 2 we showed just one cycle of the sine graph. This generated one cycle of the graph of

cosec θ. Clearly, if further cycles of the sine graph are drawn these will generate further cycles

of the cosecant graph. We conclude that the graph of cosec θ is periodic with period 2π.

We can draw the graph of sec θ by ﬁrst studying the graph of the related function cos θ one cycle

of which is shown in Figure 4.

cos θ

A

1

C

0 90◦ D ◦ θ

180◦ 270 360

◦

−1 B

Note that when θ = 0, cos θ = 1 and so sec 0 = 1. This gives us a point (A) on the graph.

Similarly when θ = 180◦ , cos θ = −1 and so sec 180◦ = −1 (Point B). When θ = 90◦ , cos θ = 0

and so we cannot evaluate sec 90◦ . We proceed as before and look a little to the left and right.

When cos θ is small and positive, cos1 θ will be large and positive. This gives point C. When cos θ

is small and negative, cos1 θ will be large and negative. This gives point D. Continuing in this

way we can produce the graph shown in Figure 5.

Recall that we have only shown one cycle of the cosine graph in Figure 4. However because this

repeats with a period of 2π it follows that the graph of sec θ is also periodic with period 2π.

sec θ C

A

1

0 ◦ θ

90 ◦ 180 270

◦

360 ◦

−1 B

5

c mathcentre December 17, 2003

5. The graph of cot θ

We can draw the graph of cot θ by ﬁrst studying the graph of tan θ two cycles of which are

shown in Figure 6.

B

tanθ

A

◦ ◦ θ

0 90◦ 180 270 360◦

We proceed as before. When θ is small and positive (just above zero), so too is tan θ. So cot θ

will be large and positive (point A). When θ is close to 90◦ the value of tan θ is very large and

positive, and so cot θ will be very small (point B). In this way we can obtain the graph shown

in Figure 7. Because the tangent graph is periodic with period π, so too is the graph of cot θ.

cot θ A

B

0 ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ θ

90 180 270 360

In summary, we have now met the three new trigonometric functions cosec, sec and cot and

obtained their graphs from knowledge of the related functions sin, cos and tan.

Exercises

1. Use the values of the trigonometric rations of the special angles 30o , 45o and 60o to deter-

mine the following without using a calculator

d) cosec 2 45o e) cot2 60o f) sec2 30o

g) cot 315o h) cosec (−30 ) i) sec 240o

o

c mathcentre December 17, 2003 6

2. Find all the solutions of each of the following equations in the range stated (give your

answers to 1 decimal place)

(b) cosec θ = 4 with 0o < θ < 180o

(c) cosec θ = 4 with 0o < θ < 360o

(d) cosec θ = 4 with −180o < θ < 180o

(e) sec θ = 4 with 0o < θ < 180o

(f) sec θ = 4 with 0o < θ < 360o

(g) sec θ = 4 with −180o < θ < 180o

(h) cot θ = 0.5 with 0o < θ < 360o

(i) cosec θ = 0.5 with 0o < θ < 360o

(j) sec θ = 0.5 with 0o < θ < 360o

(b) cosec θ is periodic with period 180o .

(c) Since the graph of cos θ is continuous, the graph of sec θ is continuous.

(d) cosec θ never takes a value less than 1 in magnitude.

(e) cot θ takes all values,

Answers

1 4

1. a) 1 b) 2 c) 2 d) 2 e) 3

f) 3

g) -1 h) -2 i) -2

f) 75.5o , 284.5o g) 75.5o , -75.5o h) 63.4o , 243.4 o i) No solutions j) No solutions

7

c mathcentre December 17, 2003

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