Limit

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A limit is the behavior of a function as its inputs approach arbitrarily close to a given value.

Limits are written in the following form:

 \lim_{x \to a}f(x) = L

The expression above states that when x\, approaches arbitrarily close to a\,, the function f(x)\, becomes arbitrarily close to the value L\,, which is called the limit.

Intuitive Definition

We can examine the limit of a simple continuous function,  f(x)=x^2 \,.

The limit at x=0, would simply be f(x)=0, since as the function is continuous and differentiable at every point, f(0)=0.

Indeed for this function,  \lim_{x \to a}f(x) = f(a)  \,. But this is a special case, in the majority of limits cannot be solved in this manner.

For example, given

f(x)=\left\{\begin{matrix} {x}^2, & \mbox{if }x\ne 0 \\  \\ 1, & \mbox{if }x=0. \end{matrix}\right. (as pictured below)

SimpleParabola.png

The limit of f(x)\, as x approaches 0 is 0 (just as in f(x)\,), but \lim_{x\to 0}f(x)\neq f(0); f(x) is not continuous at x = 0 (as shown on the right).

In other cases a limit can fail to exist, as approaching the limit from different sides produces conflicting values.

Rigorous Definition of a Limit

This definition is more appropriate for 2nd year calculus students and higher.

The original statement \lim_{x \to a}f(x) = L now means that given any \varepsilon > 0 , a  \delta > 0 \, exists such that if 0 < |x-a| < \delta \,, then |f(x)-L|< \varepsilon  .

Limit.png


We use the definition as follows to prove for the function f(x) = 3x-1 \,, \lim_{x \to 2}f(x) = 5

Given any \delta\,, we choose a \varepsilon\, such that \delta \leq \varepsilon/3

If |x-2|<\delta\,, we can derive |f(x)-5|<3\delta\,.

3|x-2|<3\delta\,

|3x-6|<3\delta\,

|f(x)-5|<3\delta\,

3\delta \leq 3*\varepsilon/3 = \varepsilon\,

Thus \lim_{x \to 2}f(x) = 5

Properties of a Limit

The limit of a sum of two functions is equal to the sum of the limits of the functions.

 \lim (f(x)+g(x)) = \lim f(x) + \lim g(x)

The limit of a difference between two functions is equal to the difference between the limits of the functions.

 \lim (f(x)-g(x)) = \lim f(x) - \lim g(x)

The limit of a product of two functions is equal to the product of the limits of the functions.

 \lim (f(x)*g(x)) = \lim f(x) * \lim g(x)

The limit of a quotient of two functions is equal to the quotient of the limits of the functions (assuming a non-zero denominator).

 \lim (\frac{f(x)}{g(x)}) = \frac{\lim f(x)}{\lim g(x)}