How do we define the slope of a line?
The coordinate plane
The coordinate plane, labelling each point in the plane with a pair of numbers (coordinates), allows us to understand geometric objects in terms of algebra, and algebraic objects in terms of geometry.
Definition of slope
The idea that we can associate a single number, called slope, with a line in order to capture the line’s steepness is a subtle one. In TSM, the slope is usually defined as “rise over run,” with a corresponding formula for calculating slope based on the coordinates of any two points on the line. However, it’s not clear at the outset that slope is well-defined notion – in particular, how do we know that if we choose different points, we will get the same result? This needs to be proved! How do we give an underlying definition, something simple that we can fall back on? We can then prove that the formula above works to calculate the slope given in our definition?
We’ll define slope in a few stages. First, let’s consider lines passing through the origin (we will set aside vertical lines for the moment).
Local slope at the origin O
Definition. Let O be the origin . Suppose is a nonvertical line passing through O. Then intersects the vertical line in one point . We call the local slope of at O.
Local slope at a point P
Definition. Let be a point with coordinates . Suppose is a nonvertical line passing through . Then intersects the vertical line in one point . We call the local slope of at .
Local slope is the same everywhere
LEMMA 6.7. The local slope of a nonvertical line at for a point does not depend on .
Definition. Let be a nonvertical line in the plane. The slope of is the local slope of at for any point on .
Formula for slope
THEOREM 6.10. On a given nonvertical line , let any two distinct points and be chosen. Then the slope of is equal to the ratio
This ratio is also called the difference quotient of and .