What are Perpendicular Lines? - Definition & Meaning

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
• 0:05 Perpendicular Lines
• 0:17 Properties of…
• 2:09 Determining…
• 5:31 A Special Relationship
• 6:48 Lesson Summary
Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betty Bundly

Betty has a master's degree in mathematics and 10 years experience teaching college mathematics.

Perpendicular lines are shaped like a 'T' and have special properties that non-perpendicular lines don't have. Because of these special properties, it is important to be able to distinguish perpendicular lines from those that aren't. In this lesson, we will explore ways to determine whether or not two lines are perpendicular.

Perpendicular Lines

We see perpendicular lines every day. They are present in something as simple as certain letters of the alphabet (specifically, E, F, H, L, and T) or the streets we encounter in our everyday travel. As the compass rose demonstrates, the directions north and south are perpendicular to the directions east and west. Since many city streets are laid out on these four directions, you'll find that many are perpendicular to each other.

Properties of Perpendicular Lines

Lines are perpendicular if they cross each other to form the shape of the letter 'T'.

However, it is possible that two lines may look like a 'T' and not be perpendicular. So, it is not enough to say two lines are perpendicular because they look like a 'T'. Many useful properties and applications come from the fact that two lines are perpendicular. If the lines aren't perpendicular, these properties won't be there.

In trigonometry, for example, perpendicular lines and properties of triangles can be used to calculate height and distances. If the objects used in the calculation are not perpendicular, the calculations will be incorrect. There has to be a way to know for certain that two lines really are perpendicular.

To be sure that two lines are perpendicular lines, the angle where two lines meet must be exactly 90 degrees. A right angle is another name for a 90 degree angle, an angle where the two lines will be in the shape of the letter 'L' . In a diagram with angles, perpendicular lines are typically indicated with a small square at the corner of the 90 degree angle, as shown here.

If you see this notation, it's telling you that the angle must be 90 degrees.

If you are presented with two lines, and you're not sure if they are perpendicular, you can measure the angle between the two lines with a protractor, an instrument used to measure angles between lines. If the measurement of the angle between the lines is 90°, then the lines are perpendicular.

Determining Perpendicular Lines Using Algebra

Another method to determine if two lines are perpendicular is by using the slopes of the two lines. If you multiply their slopes and it equals -1, the lines must be perpendicular. If the equation of a line is in slope-intercept form, you can look at the equation and know its slope without doing any calculations. The slope-intercept form of an equation looks like y = mx + b.

The variable m stands for a number that gives the value of the slope. For example, in the equation y = 2x + 3, the number 2 is the slope of the line.

To check if two lines in slope-intercept form are perpendicular, multiply their slopes together. If the product is -1, this shows that the lines are perpendicular.

If we use this technique on the lines depicted in the following graph, y = 2/3x + 3 and y = -3/2x - 1, we would first recognize the slopes to be 2/3 and -3/2.

We would then multiply 2/3 by -3/2:

2/3 * (-3/2) =

2/3 * (-3/2) = - 1

The answer -1 lets us know the lines are perpendicular.

Using another example, we will check if the lines y = -5x - 1 and y = -2/5x + 2 are perpendicular.

The slopes are -5 and -2/5, and the product of their slopes is -5 * (-2/5) = 2. Since the product of the slopes is not -1, the lines are not perpendicular!

Suppose you are given the two lines 4x + 3y = 5 and 3x - 4y = 1 and you are asked to determine if the lines are perpendicular. To do this, you must first put both equations in slope-intercept form.

To put the equation 4x + 3y = 5 into slope-intercept form, the steps are as follows:

Isolate the y-term on one side of the equal sign: 3y = -4x + 5.

Divide each term by 3 (the coefficient of y): (3/3)y = (-4/3)x + 5/3.

Simplify your fractions: y = (-4/3)x + 5/3.

You can now see that the slope is -4/3.

To put the equation 3x - 4y = 1 into slope-intercept form, the steps are as follows:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
Back

Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 49 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!

Explore our library of over 30,000 lessons

Click "next lesson" whenever you finish a lesson and quiz.
You now have full access to our lessons and courses. Watch the lesson now or keep exploring.
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate,and you'll be done before you know it.
1
The first step is always the hardest! Congrats on finishing your first lesson.
5
Way to go! If you watch at least 30 minutes of lessons each day you'll master your goals before you know it.
10
Congratulations on earning a badge for watching 10 videos but you've only scratched the surface. Keep it up!
20
You've just watched 20 videos and earned a badge for your accomplishment!
50
You've just earned a badge for watching 50 different lessons. Keep it up, you're making great progress!
100
You just watched your 100th video lesson. You have earned a badge for this achievement!
200
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 200th lesson and earned a badge!
300
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 300th lesson and earned a badge!
500
You are a superstar! You have earned the prestigious 500 video lessons watched badge.
1K
Incredible. You have just entered the exclusive club and earned the 1000 videos watched badge.
20
You have earned a badge for watching 20 minutes of lessons.
50
You have earned a badge for watching 50 minutes of lessons.
100
You have earned a badge for watching 100 minutes of lessons.
250
You have earned a badge for watching 250 minutes of lessons.
500
You have earned a badge for watching 500 minutes of lessons.
1K
You have earned a badge for watching 1000 minutes of lessons.
Support