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Solving absolute value inequalities

x 0x
x ={ .
x x<0
x can be thought of as the distance of x from 0 on the real number line.

Introductory question: (a) Find the set of all real numbers x such that x 3, and (b) the set of all real numbers x such that x > 3.

Solution:
(a) x 3 when x lies at a distance less than or equal to 3 units from 0 on the real number line.
Hence x 3 <=> 3 x 3. The solution set of the inequality in interval notation is
[ 3, 3 ].

(b) x > 3 when x lies at a distance greater than 3 from 0 on the real number line.
Hence x >3 <=> x < 3 or x > 3. The solution set of the inequality in interval notation is
( , 3 ) ( 3, ).

Note: As an aid to understanding the solution to part (a), think of a dog on a lead of length 3 units tethered to the origin wandering to the
left and right along the number line. How far to the left and right can it wander? The limited territory the dog can access is the solution set
for the inequality.

The following are basic absolute value inequalities and their solutions (for a > 0).

x > a <=> x < a or x > a ------- (i)


Solution set:
( , a ) ( a, )

x > a <=> x a or x > a ------- (ii)


Solution set:
( , a ] [a, )

x < a <=> a < x < a ------- (iii)


Solution set:
( a, a )
x a <=> a x a ------- (iv)
Solution set:
[ a, a ]

Example 1:
Solve for x:
x + 6 10.
Give the solution set in interval notation and graph it.
Solution:
x + 6 10

<=> 10 x + 6 10
( using (iv) )
<=> 16 x 4

( subtracting 6 from each side of the two inequalities contained in the "dual" inequality.

The solution set is


{ x | 16 x 4 } = [ 16, 4 ].

Alternative, graphical solution:


The graph of y = x + 6 is obtained by shifting the graph of y = x to the left by 6 units. The graph of y = x + 6 is plotted in blue in
the following picture. The graph of y = x + 6 shows how the values of x + 6 change as x changes.

By also drawing the horizontal line y = 10, (shown in green in the following picture) we can obtain the solutions of the equation

x + 6 = 10

as the x coordinates x = 16 and x = 4 of the two points of intersection of the graphs y = x + 6 and y = 10.

We can also see that the values of x + 6 are less than 10 where the points on the graph of y = x + 6 are below the line y = 10.
This happens for x between 16 and 4. Hence we see from the graph that the solution set of the inequality

x + 6 10
is the interval [ 16, 4 ], as shown in red in the following picture.
Example 2:
Solve for x:
x + 6 > 10.
Give the solution set in interval notation and graph it.
Solution:
x + 6 > 10

<=> x + 6 < 10 or x + 6 > 10


( using (i) )
<=> x < 16 or x > 4.
( subtracting 6 from each side of the two inequalities.

The solution set is


{ x | x < 16 or x > 4 } = ( , 16 ) ( 4, )

Example 3:
Solve for x:
3 x + 4 < 13.
Give the solution set in interval notation and graph it.
Solution:
3 x + 4 < 13

<=> 13 < 3 x + 4 < 13


( using (iii) )
<=> 17 < 3 x < 9

17
<=> <x <3
3
The solution set is the open interval
17
, 3 .
3

Example 4:
Solve for x:
5 2 x > 10.
Give the solution set in interval notation and graph it.

Solution:
5 2 x > 10

<=> 5 2 x < 10 or 5 2 x > 10

<=> 2 x < 15 or 2 x > 5

15 5
<=> x > or x <
2 2

Note that in each of the two inequalities, the direction of the inequality symbol is changed when both sides are divided by 2
1
(or multiplied by ).
2
The solution set is:
5 15 5 15
{x | x< or x > }= {x | x< } {x | x> }
2 2 2 2

5 15
= , , .
2 2

Alternative solution:
Since u = u for any real number u, the inequality 5 2 x > 10 is equivalent to 2 x 5 > 10. Then

2 x 5 > 10

<=> 2 x 5 < 10 or 2 x 5 > 10

<=> 2 x < 5 or 15 < 2 x

5 15
<=> x < or x > .
2 2
Example 5:
Solve for x:
2x1 5
> .
3 6
Give the solution set in interval notation and graph it.
Solution:
2x1 5
> .
3 6

2x1 5 2x1 5
<=> or >
3 6 3 6

5 5
<=> 2 x 1 or 2 x 1 >
2 2

3 7
<=> 2 x or 2 x >
2 2

3 7
<=> x or x >
4 4

The solution set is


3 7
( , 4 ] [ 4 , ).

Example 6:
Solve for x:
75x 1
.
6 4
Give the solution set in interval notation and graph it.
Solution:
75x 1
.
6 4

1 75x 1
<=>
4 6 4

1 75x 1
<=> 12 12 12
4 6 4

<=> 3 2 ( 7 5 x ) 3

<=> 3 14 10 x 3

<=> 17 10 x 11

<=> 17 > 10 x > 11

17 11
<=> >x>
10 10

11 17
<=> x .
10 10

The solution set is


11 17
, .
10 10

Example 7:
Solve for x:
83x 9
> .
15 10
Give the solution set in interval notation and graph it.
Solution:
83x 9
> .
15 10

83x 9 83x 9
<=> < or >
15 10 15 10

83x 9 83x 9
<=> 30 < 30 or < 30 > 30
15 10 15 10

<=> 2 ( 8 3 x ) < 27 or 2 ( 8 3 x ) > 27

<=> 16 6 x < 27 or 16 6 x > 27

<=> 6 x < 43 or 6 x > 11

<=> 6 x > 43 or 6 x < 11


43 11
<=> x > or x <
6 6

The solution set is


11 43
= , , .
6 6

Questions:
Solve the following inequalities. In each case write the solution set using interval notation and graph it.
x3
Q1. 3 x 1 < 2 Q2. 5 4 x 1 Q3. 3 x 7 > 5 Q4. >1
2
25x 17 14x 2
Q5. 2 9 x > 0. Q6. Q7. > Q8. x 1 < 1
14 21 10 5

Answers:
1 3
Q1. , 1 Q2. 1,
3 2

2
Q3. ( , ] [ 4, ) Q4. ( , 1 ) ( 5, )
3

9 9 28 8
Q5. , , Q6. ,
2 2 15 3

3 5
Q7. , , Q8. The empty set { }.
4 4

Version: 24/9/07 Peter Stone