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Trigonometric Functions

Graphing Sine and Cosine Functions

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Direct messages

Sine and cosine can be interpreted in multiple ways, such as the relationship between angles and side lengths in triangles, and as the coordinates of points on the unit circle. Since sine and cosine return exactly one output value for every input angle, they can also be interpreted as functions.
Sine and cosine can be evaluated for any value of x. Thus, their domain is all real numbers. Every output, however, ranges from -1 to 1 — the range of both functions is -1y1.


The Graphs of and

The parent functions of sine and cosine functions are and respectively. Thus, it is important to know how their graphs look and some of their characteristics. Graphing them is done by first evaluating some inputs and obtaining their corresponding outputs using a table. Here, radians will be used, but the functions can be evaluated for degrees as well.

Plotting these points and connecting them with smooth curves gives the graphs.

Both functions have the amplitude 1, which is half the difference between the greatest and least function values. These functions are both periodic, as they have a repeating pattern. The smallest repeating part of the graph is called a cycle. The horizontal length of the cycles is called the function's period, which is 2π for both and


Stretching and Shrinking Sine and Cosine Functions

To find more sine and cosine functions, the parent functions can be stretched or shrunk both horizontally and vertically, leading to the functions
The amplitude is affected by the factor a. Notice though that an amplitude is always positive, while a could be negative. Similarly, the period is affected by the constant b. A larger b shrinks the functions horizontally, leading to a shorter period. Here, as well, b could be negative while a period is always positive. Thus, the amplitude and period of these functions are as follows.

Amplitude = a Period =


Find the amplitude and period of the function


The graph shows the function

Using the graph, find the amplitude and period of the function. Then, verify them using the rule.

Show Solution expand_more

We can find the amplitude of the function by reading the greatest and least function values and calculating half the difference between them. From the graph, it can be seen that the greatest value is 1.5 and the least is -1.5.

Calculating the difference between these values and dividing by two gives us
The period is found by identifying the horizontal length of a cycle. We'll look at the cycle starting at the origin, ending the next time the graph passes the x-axis from below.
This cycle starts at x=0 and ends at x=1.25π. Thus, we can conclude that
When a sine function is written in the form
which the given function is, the amplitude is the absolute value of a. Therefore, we find that
For the period, we divide 2π by the absolute value of b.
Thus, the previous results have now been verified.


Translating Sine and Cosine Functions

By translating the functions and every sine and cosine function can be created. The resulting function rules are then
where h is the horizontal and k is the vertical translation. The horizontal line y=k is called the midline of the graph and is located in-between the y-values of the maximums and minimums. The graph's intersections with the midline corresponds to the x-intercepts of the parent function.


Graphing Sine and Cosine Functions

Viewing sine and cosine functions as transformations of their parent functions, and makes it easier to graph these by hand. As an example, consider the function
Find the amplitude, period, and translation of the function
Identifying the amplitude, period, and translation allows the function to be viewed as the transformation that it is. For this function, the amplitude is 0.5, the period is
and it's translated 1 unit upward.
Draw the midline y=k

As the points intersecting the midline correspond to the x-intercepts of the parent function, the midline should be the first thing graphed. Here, the midline is y=1.

Plot some key points on the graph
Key points ranging over at least one cycle of the function should now be plotted, as they can then be connected with a smooth curve to create the graph. These key points are the maximums, minimums, and intersections with the midline. Starting with the maximums, they occur at
for which is once every cycle. The period of f is π, and it's not been translated horizontally. Thus, the maximums of f occur at
As the midline is y=1 and the amplitude is 0.5, the maximums will all have the y-values 1+0.5=1.5. They can now be plotted in the graph with the midline.
The minimums are located horizontally between the maximums, which is at
for f. These have the y-values 10.5=0.5.
Lastly, in-between every neighboring maximum and minimum are the intersections with the midline:
These points have the y-value 1.

Draw the graph

The graph can now be drawn through the plotted points, continuing periodically in both directions.


Interpret the sine function


Riding a certain ferris wheel can be described using the function
where h is the height above ground in feet, and t is the time since the ride started given in minutes.

Using the function rule, answer the following questions.

  • What is the diameter of the ferris wheel?
  • One ride on the ferris wheel is two full rotations. How long does a ride take?
  • How high above ground is the entry of the ferris wheel?
Show Solution expand_more


Diameter of the ferris wheel

The diameter of the ferris wheel can be thought of as the difference in height between the highest and lowest point. Note that the amplitude is half this difference. Thus, the diameter is equal to twice the amplitude of the function. From the rule we find that the amplitude is 100, which gives us
diameter=1002=200 ft,
as the height is given in feet.


Length of a ride

One full rotation of the wheel corresponds to one cycle of the function, as it will then repeat itself. Thus, one full rotation takes as long as one period of the function is. We can find the period as usually:
One ride is twice this time, 4 minutes.


Entry's height above ground

Realistically, the ride should start at the same height as the entry. That is, when t=0. Therefore, substituting t=0 into the function gives us the height of the entry.

As the angle -0.5π is equal to it corresponds to the coordinate (0,-1) on the unit circle. Thus, is equal to -1.


We can now conclude that the entry to the ferris wheel is 4 feet off ground level.

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