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Study Guides > College Algebra

Introduction to Linear Functions


By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
  • Represent a linear function.
  • Determine whether a linear function is increasing, decreasing, or constant.
  • Calculate and interpret slope.
  • Write the point-slope form of an equation.
  • Write and interpret a linear function.
Introduction to Linear Functions
A bamboo forest in China (credit: "JFXie"/Flickr) An upward view of bamboo trees.

Imagine placing a plant in the ground one day and finding that it has doubled its height just a few days later. Although it may seem incredible, this can happen with certain types of bamboo species. These members of the grass family are the fastest-growing plants in the world. One species of bamboo has been observed to grow nearly 1.5 inches every hour.1 In a twenty-four hour period, this bamboo plant grows about 36 inches, or an incredible 3 feet! A constant rate of change, such as the growth cycle of this bamboo plant, is a linear function.

Recall from Functions and Function Notation that a function is a relation that assigns to every element in the domain exactly one element in the range. Linear functions are a specific type of function that can be used to model many real-world applications, such as plant growth over time. In this chapter, we will explore linear functions, their graphs, and how to relate them to data.


  1. 1 http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-3000/fastest-growing-plant/
Front view of a subway train, the maglev train. Shanghai MagLev Train (credit: "kanegen"/Flickr)

Just as with the growth of a bamboo plant, there are many situations that involve constant change over time. Consider, for example, the first commercial maglev train in the world, the Shanghai MagLev Train. It carries passengers comfortably for a 30-kilometer trip from the airport to the subway station in only eight minutes.[footnote]http://www.chinahighlights.com/shanghai/transportation/maglev-train.htm[/footnote]

Suppose a maglev train were to travel a long distance, and that the train maintains a constant speed of 83 meters per second for a period of time once it is 250 meters from the station. How can we analyze the train’s distance from the station as a function of time? In this section, we will investigate a kind of function that is useful for this purpose, and use it to investigate real-world situations such as the train’s distance from the station at a given point in time.

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  • Precalculus. Provided by: OpenStax Authored by: Jay Abramson, et al.. Located at: https://openstax.org/books/precalculus/pages/1-introduction-to-functions. License: CC BY: Attribution. License terms: Download For Free at : http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]..