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Reciprocal Property for Inequalities Last Updated: 4/13/16

In the Sullivan Algebra & Trigonometry textbook, this property is stated as:

Reciprocal Property for Inequalities


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If 𝑎 > 0, then >0 If a number is positive, then its reciprocal is also positive.
𝑎

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If 𝑎 < 0, then <0 If a number is negative, then its reciprocal is also negative.
𝑎

Example:

(3𝑥 − 12)−1 > 0


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>0
(3𝑥 − 12)

3𝑥 − 12 > 0

3𝑥 > 12

𝑥>4

My Thoughts on the “Reciprocal Property for Inequalities”

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The principle is a shortcut for simplifying a rational inequality in the form of > 0 or < 0.
𝑎 𝑎

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I did not understanding the shortcut jump made from
(3𝑥−12)
> 0 to 3𝑥 − 12 > 0.

I needed to see the intermediate steps of the shortcut so I can understand how this principle is valid. So
instead of using the Reciprocal Property for Inequalities, I used normal algebraic procedures to solve an
example rational inequality.

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Solving an Example Using Normal Algebraic Techniques:

(3𝑥 − 12)−1 > 0


(3𝑥 − 12)+2  (3𝑥 − 12)−1 > 0  (3𝑥 − 12)+2 Multiply both sides by exponent
+2
. Add exponents.

(3𝑥 − 12)+1 > 0 Result on left side has an exponent


+1
. Right side value remains 0.
3𝑥 − 12 > 0 An expression with exponent
+1
is that same expression; removed parenthesis.
3𝑥 > 12
𝑥>4

Notes:
• Since exponent of original problem is −1, I multiplied both sides by the same expression but with an
exponent of +2. I chose +2 because when multiplying the binomials on the left, the exponents would
sum up to +1 and therefore I can remove the parenthesis and solve for 𝑥.
• Because the exponent I chose is an even power, it guarantees that the expression (3𝑥 − 12)+2 will
result to a positive value. This ensures that the inequality symbol will not need to change direction (as
when multiplying by a negative number).
• Therefore, the Reciprocal Property for Inequalities can be used as a shortcut to eliminate the fraction
when the exponent of the original expression is −𝑘, where k is odd.

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An Example That Will Not Work:

(3𝑥 − 12)−2 > 0


(3𝑥 − 12)+3  (3𝑥 − 12)−2 > 0  (3𝑥 − 12)+3
(3𝑥 − 12)+1 > 0
3𝑥 − 12 > 0
3𝑥 > 12
𝑥>4 Apparently this is the answer, or is it? See my Notes section below.

Notes:
• Since exponent of original problem is −2, I multiplied both sides by the same expression but with an
exponent of +3. I chose +3 because when multiplying the binomials on the left, the exponents would
sum up to +1 and therefore I can remove the parenthesis and solve for 𝑥.
• However, because the exponent I chose is an odd power, it does not guarantee that the expression
(3𝑥 − 12)+3 will result to a positive value. For example, if the value of x is 1, then the result inside
the parenthesis will become a negative value and a negative number raised to an odd power keeps that
number negative.
• The problem arises when we multiply both sides by the expression (3𝑥 − 12)+3 . If the value of x
causes that expression to become negative, we must change direction of the inequality symbol.
• Because we do not know the value of x, we cannot guarantee the expression (3𝑥 − 12)+3 will result
into a positive or negative value. Thus, we do not know whether the solution should have the
inequality pointing to the left or to the right.

Conclusion:
• The Reciprocal Property for Inequalities can be used as a shortcut to eliminate the fraction only when
the exponent of the original expression is −𝑘, where k is odd. For example, (3𝑥 − 12)−1 .

Courtesy of George Hartas


Resource: Algebra & Trigonometry, 7th Edition, Michael Sullivan, 2005, Pearson Education
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