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In this section, you will:
  • Solve systems of three equations in three variables.
  • Identify inconsistent systems of equations containing three variables.
  • Express the solution of a system of dependent equations containing three variables.
(credit: “Elembis,” Wikimedia Commons)

John received an inheritance of $12,000 that he divided into three parts and invested in three ways: in a money-market fund paying 3% annual interest; in municipal bonds paying 4% annual interest; and in mutual funds paying 7% annual interest. John invested $4,000 more in municipal funds than in municipal bonds. He earned $670 in interest the first year. How much did John invest in each type of fund?

Understanding the correct approach to setting up problems such as this one makes finding a solution a matter of following a pattern. We will solve this and similar problems involving three equations and three variables in this section. Doing so uses similar techniques as those used to solve systems of two equations in two variables. However, finding solutions to systems of three equations requires a bit more organization and a touch of visual gymnastics.

Solving systems of three equations in three variables

In order to solve systems of equations in three variables, known as three-by-three systems, the primary tool we will be using is called Gaussian elimination , named after the prolific German mathematician Karl Friedrich Gauss . While there is no definitive order in which operations are to be performed, there are specific guidelines as to what type of moves can be made. We may number the equations to keep track of the steps we apply. The goal is to eliminate one variable at a time to achieve upper triangular form , the ideal form for a three-by-three system because it allows for straightforward back-substitution to find a solution ( x , y , z ) , which we call an ordered triple . A system in upper triangular form looks like the following:

A x + B y + C z = D           E y + F z = G                   H z = K

The third equation can be solved for z , and then we back-substitute to find y and x . To write the system in upper triangular form, we can perform the following operations:

  1. Interchange the order of any two equations.
  2. Multiply both sides of an equation by a nonzero constant.
  3. Add a nonzero multiple of one equation to another equation.

The solution set to a three-by-three system is an ordered triple { ( x , y , z ) } . Graphically, the ordered triple defines the point that is the intersection of three planes in space. You can visualize such an intersection by imagining any corner in a rectangular room. A corner is defined by three planes: two adjoining walls and the floor (or ceiling). Any point where two walls and the floor meet represents the intersection of three planes.

Number of possible solutions

[link] and [link] illustrate possible solution scenarios for three-by-three systems.

  • Systems that have a single solution are those which, after elimination, result in a solution set    consisting of an ordered triple { ( x , y , z ) } . Graphically, the ordered triple defines a point that is the intersection of three planes in space.
  • Systems that have an infinite number of solutions are those which, after elimination, result in an expression that is always true, such as 0 = 0. Graphically, an infinite number of solutions represents a line or coincident plane that serves as the intersection of three planes in space.
  • Systems that have no solution are those that, after elimination, result in a statement that is a contradiction, such as 3 = 0. Graphically, a system with no solution is represented by three planes with no point in common.
(a)Three planes intersect at a single point, representing a three-by-three system with a single solution. (b) Three planes intersect in a line, representing a three-by-three system with infinite solutions.
All three figures represent three-by-three systems with no solution. (a) The three planes intersect with each other, but not at a common point. (b) Two of the planes are parallel and intersect with the third plane, but not with each other. (c) All three planes are parallel, so there is no point of intersection.

Questions & Answers

how fast can i understand functions without much difficulty
Joe Reply
what is set?
Kelvin Reply
a colony of bacteria is growing exponentially doubling in size every 100 minutes. how much minutes will it take for the colony of bacteria to triple in size
Divya Reply
I got 300 minutes. is it right?
Patience
no. should be about 150 minutes.
Jason
It should be 158.5 minutes.
Mr
ok, thanks
Patience
100•3=300 300=50•2^x 6=2^x x=log_2(6) =2.5849625 so, 300=50•2^2.5849625 and, so, the # of bacteria will double every (100•2.5849625) = 258.49625 minutes
Thomas
what is the importance knowing the graph of circular functions?
Arabella Reply
can get some help basic precalculus
ismail Reply
What do you need help with?
Andrew
how to convert general to standard form with not perfect trinomial
Camalia Reply
can get some help inverse function
ismail
Rectangle coordinate
Asma Reply
how to find for x
Jhon Reply
it depends on the equation
Robert
yeah, it does. why do we attempt to gain all of them one side or the other?
Melissa
whats a domain
mike Reply
The domain of a function is the set of all input on which the function is defined. For example all real numbers are the Domain of any Polynomial function.
Spiro
Spiro; thanks for putting it out there like that, 😁
Melissa
foci (–7,–17) and (–7,17), the absolute value of the differenceof the distances of any point from the foci is 24.
Churlene Reply
difference between calculus and pre calculus?
Asma Reply
give me an example of a problem so that I can practice answering
Jenefa Reply
x³+y³+z³=42
Robert
dont forget the cube in each variable ;)
Robert
of she solves that, well ... then she has a lot of computational force under her command ....
Walter
what is a function?
CJ Reply
I want to learn about the law of exponent
Quera Reply
explain this
Hinderson Reply
Practice Key Terms 1

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Source:  OpenStax, Precalculus. OpenStax CNX. Jan 19, 2016 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11667/1.6
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