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Determining the End Behavior of a Function

How do you determine the end behavior of a function?  And, what does this mean?

When looking at a graph, the “end behavior” is referring to what is happening all the way to the far left of the graph and all the way to the far right of the graph.  Your goal is to analyze the y-value (height or function value) of the function when x is really large and negative, and then again when x is really large and positive.  What is the pattern on each end?  What is the “end behavior”?

Notationally, we are thinking:

  1. As x → -∞, y → ?
  2. As x → +∞, y → ?

OK, so let’s try this on a polynomial example:

Q:  What is the end behavior of the function y=5x3+7x2-2x-1

A:  OK.  Let’s look at the left end behavior first:

As  x approaches -∞, what is the function (y-value) doing?

Imagine x=-1000000 (some super large and super negative number, like the idea of -∞), we have:

y=5(-1000000)3+7(-1000000)2-2(-1000000)-1

Don’t do the actual math.  Just think:

Is this number large or small?

Is it positive or negative?

I can look at the x3 term and see that it dominates this function. x2 and x are small peanuts compared to x3. So, in reaity, in polynomials, I can focus on the term of the largest degree:

y=5(-1000000)3+7(-1000000)2-2(-1000000)-1

y=5(-1000000)3

This number gives y = negative and super large.

So, I can jump to conclusions here…

As x → -∞, y → -∞

(As x approaches negative infinity, y approaches negative infinity).

Now, let’s look at the right end behavior:

As  x approaches +∞, what is the function (y-value) doing?

Imagine x=+1000000 (some super large and super positive number, like the concept of +∞), we have:

y=5(+1000000)3+7(+1000000)2-2(+1000000)-1

And, by the same reasoning, we can focus on the term of largest degree:

y=5(+1000000)3+7(+1000000)2-2(+1000000)-1

y=5(+1000000)3 = super large and super positive

So, as x → +∞, y → +∞

(As x approaches positive infinity, y approaches positive infinity)

Note: in this example, y behavior mimicked x behavior, this isn’t always the case!

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