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# Representing Inequalities on a Number Line and with Interval Notation

### Learning Outcomes

• Represent inequalities on a number line
• Represent inequalities using interval notation
• Describe solutions to inequalities

## Represent Inequalities on a Number Line

First, let us define some important terminology. An inequality is a mathematical statement that compares two expressions using the ideas of greater than or less than. Special symbols are used in these statements. When you read an inequality, read it from left to right—just like reading text on a page. In algebra, inequalities are used to describe large sets of solutions. Sometimes there are an infinite amount of numbers that will satisfy an inequality, so rather than try to list off an infinite amount of numbers, we have developed some ways to describe very large lists in succinct ways. The first way you are probably familiar with—the basic inequality. For example:
• ${x}\lt{9}$ indicates the list of numbers that are less than $9$. Would you rather write ${x}\lt{9}$ or try to list all the possible numbers that are less than $9$? (Most people would answer with the former.)
• $-5\le{t}$ indicates all the numbers that are greater than or equal to $-5$.
Note how placing the variable on the left or right of the inequality sign can change whether you are looking for greater than or less than. For example:
• $x\lt5$ means all the real numbers that are less than 5, whereas;
• $5\lt{x}$ means that 5 is less than x, or we could rewrite this with the x on the left: $x\gt{5}$. Note how the inequality is still pointing the same direction relative to x. This statement represents all the real numbers that are greater than 5, which is easier to interpret than 5 is less than x.
The second way is with a graph using a number line: And the third way is with an interval. We will explore the second and third ways in depth in this section. Again, the three ways to write solutions to inequalities are:
• an inequality
• a graph
• an interval

### Inequality Signs

The box below shows the symbol, meaning, and an example for each inequality sign. Sometimes, it is easy to get tangled up in inequalities; just remember to read them from left to right.
Symbol Words Example
$\neq$ not equal to ${2}\neq{8}$, 2 is not equal to 8
$\gt$ greater than ${5}\gt{1}$, 5 is greater than 1
$\lt$ less than ${2}\lt{11}$, 2 is less than 11
$\geq$ greater than or equal to ${4}\geq{ 4}$, 4 is greater than or equal to 4
$\leq$ less than or equal to ${7}\leq{9}$, 7 is less than or equal to 9
The inequality $x>y$ can also be written as ${y}<{x}$. The sides of any inequality can be switched, as long as the inequality symbol between them is also reversed.

## Graphing an Inequality

Inequalities can also be graphed on a number line. Below are three examples of inequalities and their graphs.  Graphs are a very helpful way to visualize information, especially when that information represents an infinite list of numbers! $x\leq -4$. This translates to all the real numbers on a number line that are less than or equal to $4$. ${x}\geq{-3}$. This translates to all the real numbers on the number line that are greater than or equal to -3. Each of these graphs begins with a circle—either an open or closed (shaded) circle. This point is often called the end point of the solution. A closed, or shaded, circle is used to represent the inequalities greater than or equal to $\displaystyle \left(\geq\right)$ or less than or equal to $\displaystyle \left(\leq\right)$. The point is part of the solution. An open circle is used for greater than (>) or less than (<). The point is not part of the solution. The graph then extends endlessly in one direction. This is shown by a line with an arrow at the end. For example, notice that for the graph of $\displaystyle x\geq -3$ shown above, the end point is $−3$, represented with a closed circle since the inequality is greater than or equal to $−3$. The blue line is drawn to the right on the number line because the values in this area are greater than $−3$. The arrow at the end indicates that the solutions continue infinitely.

### Example

Graph the inequality $x\ge 4$

Answer: We can use a number line as shown. Because the values for $x$ include $4$, we place a solid dot on the number line at $4$. Then we draw a line that begins at $x=4$ and, as indicated by the arrowhead, continues to positive infinity, which illustrates that the solution set includes all real numbers greater than or equal to $4$.

This video shows an example of how to draw the graph of an inequality. https://youtu.be/-kiAeGbSe5c

### Try It

[ohm_question]26182[/ohm_question]

### Example

Write an inequality describing all the real numbers on the number line that are less than $2$. Then draw the corresponding graph.

Answer: We need to start from the left and work right, so we start from negative infinity and end at $2$. We will not include either because infinity is not a number, and the inequality does not include $2$. Inequality: $x\lt2$ To draw the graph, place an open dot on the number line first, and then draw a line extending to the left. Draw an arrow at the leftmost point of the line to indicate that it continues for infinity.

## Represent Inequalities Using Interval Notation

Another commonly used, and arguably the most concise, method for describing inequalities and solutions to inequalities is called interval notation. With this convention, sets are built with parentheses or brackets, each having a distinct meaning. The solutions to $x\geq 4$ are represented as $\left[4,\infty \right)$. This method is widely used and will be present in other math courses you may take. The main concept to remember is that parentheses represent solutions greater than or less than the number, and brackets represent solutions that are greater than or equal to or less than or equal to the number. Use parentheses to represent infinity or negative infinity, since positive and negative infinity are not numbers in the usual sense of the word and, therefore, cannot be "equaled." A few examples of an interval, or a set of numbers in which a solution falls, are $\left[-2,6\right)$, or all numbers between $-2$ and $6$, including $-2$, but not including $6$; $\left(-1,0\right)$, all real numbers between, but not including $-1$ and $0$; and $\left(-\infty,1\right]$, all real numbers less than and including $1$. The table below outlines the possibilities. Remember to read inequalities from left to right, just like text. The table below describes all the possible inequalities that can occur and how to write them using interval notation, where a and b are real numbers.
Inequality Words Interval Notation
${a}\lt{x}\lt{ b}$ all real numbers between a and b, not including a and b $\left(a,b\right)$
${x}\gt{a}$ All real numbers greater than a, but not including a $\left(a,\infty \right)$
${x}\lt{b}$ All real numbers less than b, but not including b $\left(-\infty ,b\right)$
${x}\ge{a}$ All real numbers greater than a, including a $\left[a,\infty \right)$
${x}\le{b}$ All real numbers less than b, including b $\left(-\infty ,b\right]$
${a}\le{x}\lt{ b}$ All real numbers between a and b, including a $\left[a,b\right)$
${a}\lt{x}\le{ b}$ All real numbers between a and b, including b $\left(a,b\right]$
${a}\le{x}\le{ b}$ All real numbers between a and b, including a and b $\left[a,b\right]$
${x}\lt{a}\text{ or }{x}\gt{ b}$ All real numbers less than a or greater than b $\left(-\infty ,a\right)\cup \left(b,\infty \right)$
All real numbers All real numbers $\left(-\infty ,\infty \right)$

### Example

Describe the inequality $x\ge 4$ using interval notation

Answer: The solutions to $x\ge 4$ are represented as $\left[4,\infty \right)$. Note the use of a bracket on the left because 4 is included in the solution set.

### Try It

[ohm_question]72501[/ohm_question]

### Example

Use interval notation to indicate all real numbers greater than or equal to $-2$.

Answer: Use a bracket on the left of $-2$ and parentheses after infinity: $\left[-2,\infty \right)$. The bracket indicates that $-2$ is included in the set with all real numbers greater than $-2$ to infinity.

### Think About It

In the previous examples you were given an inequality or a description of one with words, and asked to draw the corresponding graph and write the interval. In this example, you are given an interval and asked to write the inequality and draw the graph. Given $\left(-\infty,10\right)$, write the associated inequality and draw the graph. In the box below, write down whether you think it will be easier to draw the graph first or write the inequality first. [practice-area rows="1"][/practice-area]

Answer: We will draw the graph first. The interval reads "all real numbers less than 10," so we will start by placing an open dot on 10 and drawing a line to the left with an arrow indicating the solution continues to negative infinity. To write the inequality, we will use < since the parentheses indicate that 10 is not included. $x<10$

In the following video, you will see examples of how to write inequalities in the three ways presented here: as an inequality, in interval notation, and with a graph. https://youtu.be/X0xrHKgbDT0

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