Basic Trigonometric Functions
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Contents
Ratios: The Idea Behind Trig Functions
Imagine two lines that extend infinitely from one point. Let's call the the angle that these lines make .
We can draw right triangles using by creating lines that are perpendicular to one of our original two lines, as shown in Image 1. In the picture, the lines are drawn perpendicular to the side that is oriented horizontally, but they could be drawn to the other side instead without affecting our results.
Visually, we can see that and have the same three angles, and so they are similar. That is, divided by is the same as divided by :
Those aren't the only corresponding pairs of sides in our diagram, though. It's also true (by the definition of similarity) that the ratio of any two sides in is equal to the ratio of the corresponding sides in :



Because these ratios are the same any time you have a right triangle with a given angle, every angle can be thought of as having an associated collection of ratios. We use trigonometric functions to connect an angle with its associated ratios. Since "trigonometric" is a long word, we often shorten it to "trig".
Specific Functions
The trig functions below are defined in terms of a typical right triangle, as show in Image 2. We will then find their values for the specific triangle shown in Image 3.
Sine
Sine is a function that takes an angle and gives you the ratio of its opposite side divided by the hypotenuse:
In the triangle with angle A = 36.9°,
Cosine
Cosine is a function that takes an angle and gives you the ratio of its adjacent side divided by the hypotenuse:
In the triangle with angle A = 36.9°,
Tangent
Tangent is a function that takes an angle and gives you the ratio of its opposite side divided by its adjacent side:
In the triangle with angle A = 36.9°,
Reciprocal Functions
For more information on graphing these functions, see Sine Curve.
The Unit Circle
Up until now, we have been defining trigonometric functions in terms of right triangles. Right triangles are one of the simplest ways to begin working with trig functions, but a big problem with that definition is that we have no way to define trig functions for angles that are greater than 90 ° (or π/2 radians). If an angle is bigger than 90 °, we can't draw a right triangle with that as one of the nonright angles, and then we have no way to assign it a value for sine, cosine, or tangent.
The Unit Circle gives us a new way to define trig functions  a definition that works for all angles, even those too big to draw right triangles from.
The Unit Circle is a circle with a radius of 1 unit that is centered at the origin. In the context of the Unit Circle, angles are depicted as central angles with one side fixed on the xaxis and the other rotated counterclockwise around the origin.
We'll start in the first quadrant, where both the x and y coordinates are positive. We can relate our righttriangle based definitions of trig functions from above to the Unit Circle by dropping a line down to the xaxis from any point on the circle. By doing so, we create a right triangle whose hypotenuse is a radius of the Unit Circle. The length of this triangle's horizontal leg is the point's x coordinate, and the length of its vertical leg is the point's y coordinate.
Before, we found an angle's sine and cosine in terms of the sides of a right triangle. Now, we will find the sides of the right triangle in terms of an angle and that angle's sine and cosine. In Image 4, x and y are the sides of the right triangle, r is the radius of the circle (in the Unit Circle, r=1), and θ is the central angle that we're looking at. Then, by our definition of sine and cosine:


If the radius of our circle is not 1, the same calculations show that and :


If x and y are related to sine and cosine, is there something in our new picture that's related to tangent? Since tangent was defined as the opposite side divided by the adjacent side,
 .
We now have a new way of defining sine, cosine, and tangent. Sine and cosine are the x and y coordinates of points on the Unit Circle, and tangent is sine divided by cosine.
Now that we can define our functions in terms of a radius and an angle, we can simply orient the radius so that it makes an obtuse angle with the positive xaxis. Then the x and y coordinates of the point where the radius intersects the Unit Circle will give us the values of sine, cosine, and tangent for that angle.
In Image 5, θ is an angle greater than 90°. We are interested in finding the coordinates (x,y) of the point on the Unit Circle defined by the radius at angle θ. First, we draw a vertical line from our point to the xaxis. Next, we label the sides of our triangle. Because the point is located in the second quadrant, we know that x is negative; however since length can't be negative, the leg of our triangle along the xaxis must have length .
Now our picture looks very familiar  in fact, it looks just like Image 4, but with the triangle flipped over the yaxis. This is important.
Let's label the angle inside of the triangle α. This angle is the supplementary angle of θ. Next, we draw another triangle, this one measuring α from the positive xaxis. The updated version of our picture is shown in Image 6. In this new triangle, we know how to find the coordinates of the point on the Unit Circle defined by the radius at angle α. These are the coordinates that correspond to the triangle's sidelengths, so they're just and .
Remember that we wanted to find x and y because they are and and we wanted to know what and are when θ is greater than 90°. Since the x and y that we're actually looking for are simply the coordinates we found for the vertex of our second triangle reflected over the yaxis, and . This tells us that when θ is in the second quadrant,
and
 .
Because we used the angle α to help us find out information about the angle θ, we say that α is the reference angle of θ. Whenever we work with an angle greater than 90°, we will need to find a reference angle. To find the reference angle of some obtuse angle θ, we first rotate the radius θ degrees counterclockwise from the positive xaxis. Then, we measure the smallest angle (going either direction) between this radius and the xaxis. This angle is θ's reference angle.
When our angle is greater than 180° but less than 270°, the radius that defines it is in the third quadrant, and so both sine and cosine are negative, because both the x and y coordinates are negative. When our angle is greater than 270° but less than 360°, it's in the fourth quadrant, and only the sine (the ycoordinate) is negative. In each case, we can find cosine and sine for our angle by finding the sine and cosine of the reference angle, and then applying negative signs depending on what quadrant we're in. This process is illustrated in Image 7.
Thus, for angles greater than 90°, we have now defined the trigonometric functions in terms of a reference angle. This introduces an interesting property of trig functions: they are periodic. By starting at the positive xaxis and rotating the radius around the Unit Circle, the values of sine, cosine, and tangent cycle through a specific set of values. Once the radius reaches the positive xaxis again, these values begin to repeat.
Below is an interactive applet that demonstrates the periodic properties of the Unit Circle:
Inverse Trig Functions
Inverse trig functions can be written in two (nearly equivalent) ways  either by putting a superscripted 1 after the function name or by prefixing the function with "arc". So the inverse of is or . Both are used to an equal degree. uses function notation for the inverse of a function, however, the superscript is easily confused with an exponent, which also frequently are used with trig functions.
The concept of inverse trig functions is fairly straightforward. Just as other functions and operations have inverses (subtraction is the inverse of addition, division is the inverse of multiplication, logarithms are the inverse of exponentiation, etc.), so do trig functions. Since regular trig functions take an angle and return a ratio, their inverses take a ratio (which will be a number between 1 and 1) and return the angle to which that ratio belongs. So, and .
In this way:
The input of a trig function is the output of an inverse trig function, and the output of a trig function is the input of an inverse trig function. Trig functions output ratios when given angle measure, while inverse trig functions output angle measures when given ratios. Graphically, the two relate to each other in that, the x values of the first are the y values of the second, while the y values of the first are the x values of the second. Drawing the graph of an inverse function can be accomplished simply by reflecting the graph of the original function over the line y = x, thus flipping the x and y values of the coordinates. This is illustrated in Image 8 for sine and sin^{1}.
As was discussed in The Unit Circle, the values of trig functions repeat every 360°. Hence, there are an infinite number of angles that will yield a specific ratio when put into a trig function. In other words, as is, the inverse trig functions do not pass the vertical line test. There is a way to remedy the problem of inverse trig functions returning an infinite number of angles for every ratio: inverse trig functions are defined with a restricted, or shortened, range from that of their corresponding trig function.
A portion that passes the vertical line test (the red portion in Image 8) is taken from each of the inverse trig functions, and is set to represent the function as a whole. Restricting the range in this way, ensures that an inverse trig function will output at most one angle for a given ratio. Note, however, that the angle that an inverse trig function outputs for a given ratio will be the reference angle for that ratio.
Function  If  Then  Domain (input) of function  Range (output) of function in degrees  Range (output) of function in radians 
sin^{1}  y = sin(x)  x = sin^{1}(y)  1 ≤ x ≤ 1  90° ≤ y ≤ 90°  π/2 ≤ y ≤ π/2 
cos^{1}  y = cos(x)  x = cos^{1}(y)  1 ≤ x ≤ 1  0° ≤ y ≤ 180°  0 ≤ y ≤ π 
tan^{1}  y = tan(x)  x = tan^{1}(y)  All real numbers  90° < y < 90°  π/2 < y < π/2 
csc^{1}  y = csc(x)  x = csc^{1}(y)  x ≤ 1 OR 1 ≤ x  90° ≤ y < 0° OR 0° < y ≤ 90°  π/2 ≤ y < 0 OR 0 < y ≤ π/2 
sec^{1}  y = sec(x)  x = sec^{1}(y)  x ≤ 1 OR 1 ≤ x  0° ≤ y < 90° OR 90° < y ≤ 180°  0 ≤ y < π/2 OR π/2 < y ≤ π 
cot^{1}  y = cot(x)  x = cot^{1}(y)  All real numbers  0° < y < 180°  0 < y < π 