You are on page 1of 8

http://www.themathpage.com/aprecalc/rational-irrational-numbers.

htm

The following numbers of arithmetic are the counting numbers or, as they are called, the natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. If we include 0, we have the whole numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, and so on. And if we include their algebraic negatives, we have the integers: 0, 1, 2, 3, and so on. ("plus or minus") is called the double sign. The following are the square numbers, or the perfect squares: 1 4 9 16 25 36 49 64, and so on. They are the numbers 1 1, 2 2, 3 3, 4 4, and so on.
Rational and irrational numbers
1. What is a rational number?

Any ordinary number of arithmetic: Any whole number, fraction, mixed number or decimal; together with its negative image. A rational number is a nameable number, in the sense that we can name it in the standard way we name whole numbers, fractions and mixed numbers. "Five." "Six thousand eight hundred nine." "Nine hundred twelve millionths." "Three and five-eighths." What is more, we can in principle (by Euclid VI, 9) place any rational number exactly on the number line.

We can say that we truly know a rational number.


2. Which of the following numbers are rational?

1 1 0

2 2 3 3

5 5 6.08 6.08 3.1415926535897932384626

To see the answer, pass your mouse over the colored area. To cover the answer again, click "Refresh" ("Reload"). All of them! All decimals are rational. That long one is an approximation to , which, as we will see, is not equal to any decimal.
A rational number can always be written in what form? a As a fraction b, where a and b are integers (b 0). 3.

An integer itself can be written as a fraction: b = 1. And fromarithmetic, we know that we can write a decimal as a fraction. When a and b are positive, that is, when they are natural numbers, then we can always name their ratio. Hence the term, rational number. At this point, the student might wonder, What is a number that is not rational? An example of such a number is ("Square root of 2"). It is not possible to name any whole number, any fraction or any decimal whose square is 2. 5 is close, because -- which is almost 2.
7 7 49 5 = 25 5 7

To prove that there is no rational number whose square is 2, suppose there were. Then we could express it as a fraction n in lowest terms. That is, suppose
m m n n m Since n is m

mm nn

= 2.

But that is impossible.

in lowest terms, then m and n have

no common divisors except 1. Therefore, mm and nn also have no common divisors -- they are relatively prime -- and it will be impossible to divide nn into mm and get 2.

There is no rational number -- no number of arithmetic -- whose square is 2. Therefore we call an irrational number. By recalling the Pythagorean theorem, we can see that irrationalnumbers are necessary. For if the sides of an isosceles right triangle are called 1, then we will have 1 + 1 = 2, so that the hypotenuse is . There really is a length that logically deserves the name, " ." Inasmuch as numbers name the lengths of lines, then is a number.
4. Which natural numbers have rational square roots?

Only the square roots of the square numbers; that is, the square roots of the perfect squares. =1
Rational Irrational Irrational

=2 ,

Rational

Irrational

= 3 Rational And so on. Only the square roots of square numbers are rational. The existence of irrationals was first realized by Pythagoras in the 6th century B.C. He realized that in the isosceles right triangle, the ratio of the hypotenuse to the side was not as two natural numbers. Their relationship, he said, was "without a name." Because if we ask, "What ratio has the hypotenuse to the side?" -- we cannot say. We can express it only as "Square root of 2."
5. Say the name of each number.

a) c) d)

"Square root of 3."

b)

"Square root of 5."

"2." This is a rational -- nameable -- number. "Square root of 3/5." e) "2/3."

In the same way we saw that only the square roots of square numbers are rational, we could prove that only the nth roots of nth powers are rational. Thus, the 5th root of 32 is rational, because 32 is a 5th power, namely the 5th power of 2. But the 5th root of 33 is irrational. 33 is not a perfect 5th power.

The decimal representation of irrationals

When we express a rational number as a decimal, then either the decimal will a predictable pattern of digits. But if we attempted to express an irrationalnumber as an exact decimal, then, clearly, we could not, because if we could the number would be rational Moreover, there will not be a predictable pattern of digits. For example, 1.4142135623730950488016887242097 Now, with rational numbers you sometimes see
1 11 1

= .090909. . .

By writing both the equal sign = and three dots (ellipsis) we mean: "A decimal for 11 will never be complete or exact. However we can approximate it with as many decimal digits as we please according to the indicated pattern; and the more decimal digits we write, the closer we will be to
1 11 ."

(That explanation is an example of mathematical realism. It asserts that in the mathematics of computation and measuring, which includes calculus, what exists is what we actually observe or name, now. That .090909 never ends is a doctrine that need not concern us, because it serves no useful purpose. Such actual infinities have no practical effect on calculations in arithmetic or calculus.) We say that any decimal for
1

is inexact. But the decimal for ,

11

which is .25, is exact.


The symbol for decimal fractions was invented in the 16th century. Now, of course, we take decimals for granted, but at the time many thought it was not a very forward looking idea, because the decimals for only a very limited number of fractions are exact. Even the decimal for as simple a fraction as 3 is inexact. See Lesson 24 of Arithmetic.
1

As for the decimal for an irrational number, it is always inexact. An example is the decimal for above. If we write ellipsis -= 1.41421356237. . . -- we mean, "A decimal for will never be complete or exact. Moreover, there will not be a predictable pattern of digits. We could continue itsrational approximation for as many decimal digits as we please, by means of the algorithm, or method, for calculating each next digit (not the subject of these Topics); and again, the more digits we calculate, the closer we will be to ." It is important to understand that no decimal that you or anyone will ever see is equal to , or , or any irrational number. We know an irrational number only as a rational approximation. And if we choose a decimal approximation, then the more decimal digits we calculate, the closer we will be to the value. To sum up, a rational number is a number we can know exactly, either as a whole number, a fraction or a mixed number, but not always exactly as a decimal. An irrational number we can never know exactly in any form.
The language of arithmetic is ratio. It is with that language that we relate each rational number to 1, which is the ground. The whole numbers are the multiples of 1, the fractions are its parts: its halves, thirds, fourths, millionths. But we cannot relate an irrational

number to 1. Like Pythagoras, we cannot say. An irrational number and 1 are incommensurable. To put it another way, a rational number partakes of the essence of number, which is to answer the question "How many?" (whether apples or inches), for a rational number is composed of what is countable. An integer is a number of 1's (or 1's). A fraction or a decimal is a number of unitfractions. But an irrational number is not a number of anything. One often hears however that an irrational number is aninfinite decimal. = 1.41421356237. . . But if a decimal, even as an idea, did not end, then it would not be a number. Why not? Because, to be useful, decimals have names, and therefore we can name their sum, their difference, their product and their quotient. But an infinite sequence of digits does not have a name. It is not that we will never finish naming it. We cannot even begin. Finally, can what is never complete, or whole, ever beequal to anything? See The mathematical existence of numbers.

Real numbers
5. What is a real number?

A real number is distinguished from an imaginary number. It is a number we require to name the length of a line, relative to the length we have called 1, or the position of a point relative to the point we have called 0. Hence a real number is any rational or irrational number that we can name. They are the numbers we expect to find on the number line. They are the numbers we need for measuring.

(An actual measurement can result only in a rational number. An irrational number can result only from a theoretical calculation; examples are the Pythagorean theorem, and solving an equation such as x = 5. Any serious theory of measurement must address the question: Which irrational numbers are theoretically possible? Which ones could be actually predictive of a measurement?) Problem 1. We have categorized numbers as real, rational, irrational, andinteger. Name all the categories to which each of the following belongs. 3 Real, rational, integer. 3 Real, rational, integer. Real, rational. 5 Real, rational. 1.732 Real, rational. Real, irrational. 11/2 Real, rational. 6.920920920. . . Real, rational.

6.9205729744. . . Real. And let us assume that it is irrational, that is, that the digits do not repeat. Moreover, we must assume that there is an effective procedure for computing each next digit. For if there were not, then we could not place it with respect to order. That symbol would not then refer to any number. 6.9205729744 Real, rational. Every exact decimal is rational.
7. What is a real variable?

A variable is a symbol that takes on values. A value is a number. A real variable takes on values that are real numbers. Calculus is the study of functions of a real variable. Problem 2. Let x be a real variable, and let 3 < x < 4. Name five values that x might have.