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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

The sides of a triangle are three consecutive natural number numbers and it's largest angle is twice the smallest one. determine the sides of a triangle
Jaya Reply
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3, 4, 5 principle from geo? sounds like a 90 and 2 45's to me that my answer
prove that [a+b, b+c, c+a]= 2[a b c]
Ashutosh Reply
can't prove
i can prove [a+b+b+c+c+a]=2[a+b+c]
this is simple
x exposant 4 + 4 x exposant 3 + 8 exposant 2 + 4 x + 1 = 0
x exposent4+4x exposent3+8x exposent2+4x+1=0
How can I solve for a domain and a codomains in a given function?
Oliver Reply
Thank you I mean range sir.
proof for set theory
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find to nearest one decimal place of centimeter the length of an arc of circle of radius length 12.5cm and subtending of centeral angle 1.6rad
Martina Reply
factoring polynomial
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Shin Reply
find general solution of the Tanx=-1/root3,secx=2/root3
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find general solution of the following equation
the value of 2 sin square 60 Cos 60
Sanjay Reply
when can I use sin, cos tan in a giving question
duru Reply
depending on the question
I am a carpenter and I have to cut and assemble a conventional roof line for a new home. The dimensions are: width 30'6" length 40'6". I want a 6 and 12 pitch. The roof is a full hip construction. Give me the L,W and height of rafters for the hip, hip jacks also the length of common jacks.
I want to learn the calculations
Koru Reply
where can I get indices
Kojo Reply
I need matrices
need help
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about complex fraction
What do you mean by a
nothing. I accidentally press it
you guys know any app with matrices?
Solve the x? x=18+(24-3)=72
Leizel Reply
x-39=72 x=111
Solve the formula for the indicated variable P=b+4a+2c, for b
Deadra Reply
Need help with this question please
b= p - 4a - 2c
like Deadra, show me the step by step order of operation to alive for b
Practice Key Terms 1

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Source:  OpenStax, Algebra and trigonometry. OpenStax CNX. Nov 14, 2016 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11758/1.6
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