Statistics How To

How to Figure Out When a Function is Not Differentiable

Calculus > How to Figure Out When a Function is Not Differentiable

If there’s no limit to the slope of the secant line (in other words, if the limit does not exist at that point), then the derivative will not exist at that point. In general, a function is not differentiable in four separate area:

  • Corners,
  • Cusps,
  • Vertical tangents,
  • Jump discontinuities.

You’ll be able to see these different types of scenarios by graphing the function on a graphing calculator; the only other way to “see” these events is algebraically. Even if your algebra skills are very strong, it’s much easier and faster just to graph the function and look at the behavior.

How to Check for When a Function is Not Differentiable

Step 1: Check to see if the function has a distinct corner. For example, the graph of f(x)=|x – 1| has a corner at x=1, and is therefore not differentiable at that point:

Step 2: Look for a cusp in the graph. A cusp is slightly different from a corner. You can think of it as a type of curved corner. This graph has a cusp at x = 0 (the origin):
function is not differentiable

Step 3: Look for a jump discontinuity. This normally happens in step or piecewise functions. The function may appear to not be continuous. the following graph jumps at the origin.

Step 4: Check for a vertical tangent. A vertical tangent is a line that runs straight up, parallel to the y-axis.
This graph has a vertical tangent in the center of the graph at x = 0.


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How to Figure Out When a Function is Not Differentiable was last modified: June 15th, 2018 by Stephanie