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Differentiability for Functions

of Two Variables
Local Linearity
Recall that when we zoom in on a “sufficiently
nice” function of two variables, we see a plane.
What is meant by “sufficiently
Suppose we zoom in on the function z=f(x,y)
centering our zoom on the point (a,b) and we see a
plane. What can we say about the plane?
• The partial derivatives for the plane at the point
must be the same as the partial derivatives for the
• Therefore, the equation for the tangent plane is
( , ) ( , ) ( , )( ) ( , )( )
f f
L x y f a b a b x a a b y b
x y
 
    
 
In particular. . .
The Partial Derivatives Must Exist
If the partial derivatives don’t exist at the point
(a,b), the function f cannot be locally planar at
Example: (as given in text) A cone
with vertex at the origin cannot be
locally planar there, as it is clear that the
x and y cross sections are not
differentiable there.
Not enough: A Puny Condition
Suppose we have a function
1 if 0 or 0
( , )
0 if neither nor is 0
x y
f x y
x y
 

Notice several things:

•Both partial derivatives exist at x=0.
•The function is not locally planar at x=0.
•The function is not continuous at x=0.

Whoa! The
existence of the
partial derivatives
doesn’t even
continuity at the
Directional Derivatives?
It’s not even good enough
for all of the directional
derivatives to exist!
Just take a function that is
a bunch of straight lines
through the origin with
random slopes. (One for
each direction in the
Directional Derivatives?
It’s not even good enough
for all of the directional
derivatives to exist!

Locally Planar at the origin?
What do you think?
Directional Derivatives?
If you don’t believe this is
a function, just look at it
from “above”.

There’s one output (z
value) for each input
(point (x,y)).
The function z = f(x,y) is differentiable (locally
planar) at the point (a,b)

if and only if

the partial derivatives of f exist and are
continuous in a small disk centered at (a,b).
Differentiability: A precise
A function f(x,y) is said to be differentiable at the point
(a,b) provided that there exist real numbers m and n
and a function E(x,y) such that for all x and y

( , ) ( , ) ( ) ( ) ( , ) f x y f a b n x a m y b E x y      
2 2
( , )
0 as (x,y) 0
E x y
x y
 

E(x) for One-Variable Functions
But E(x)→0 is not enough, even
for functions of one variable!
( , ( )) p f p
What happens to E(x)
as x approaches p?
( , ( )) p f p
E(x) measures the vertical
distance between f (x) and L
( ) E x
( ) E x
( , ( ))
x L x
( , ( )) x f x
( , ( ))
x L x
( , ( )) x f x