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Solving systems of equations by substitution

Solving a linear system in two variables by graphing works well when the solution consists of integer values, but if our solution contains decimals or fractions, it is not the most precise method. We will consider two more methods of solving a system of linear equations    that are more precise than graphing. One such method is solving a system of equations by the substitution method    , in which we solve one of the equations for one variable and then substitute the result into the second equation to solve for the second variable. Recall that we can solve for only one variable at a time, which is the reason the substitution method is both valuable and practical.

Given a system of two equations in two variables, solve using the substitution method.

  1. Solve one of the two equations for one of the variables in terms of the other.
  2. Substitute the expression for this variable into the second equation, then solve for the remaining variable.
  3. Substitute that solution into either of the original equations to find the value of the first variable. If possible, write the solution as an ordered pair.
  4. Check the solution in both equations.

Solving a system of equations in two variables by substitution

Solve the following system of equations by substitution.

  x + y = −5   2 x 5 y = 1

First, we will solve the first equation for y .

x + y = −5    y = x −5

Now we can substitute the expression x −5 for y in the second equation.

           2 x 5 y = 1 2 x 5 ( x 5 ) = 1    2 x 5 x + 25 = 1                3 x = −24                       x = 8

Now, we substitute x = 8 into the first equation and solve for y .

( 8 ) + y = −5     y = 3

Our solution is ( 8 , 3 ) .

Check the solution by substituting ( 8 , 3 ) into both equations.

x + y = 5 ( 8 ) + ( 3 ) = 5 True 2 x 5 y = 1 2 ( 8 ) 5 ( 3 ) = 1 True
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Solve the following system of equations by substitution.

x = y + 3 4 = 3 x −2 y

( −2 , −5 )

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Can the substitution method be used to solve any linear system in two variables?

Yes, but the method works best if one of the equations contains a coefficient of 1 or –1 so that we do not have to deal with fractions.

Solving systems of equations in two variables by the addition method

A third method of solving systems of linear equations is the addition method    . In this method, we add two terms with the same variable, but opposite coefficients, so that the sum is zero. Of course, not all systems are set up with the two terms of one variable having opposite coefficients. Often we must adjust one or both of the equations by multiplication so that one variable will be eliminated by addition.

Given a system of equations, solve using the addition method.

  1. Write both equations with x - and y -variables on the left side of the equal sign and constants on the right.
  2. Write one equation above the other, lining up corresponding variables. If one of the variables in the top equation has the opposite coefficient of the same variable in the bottom equation, add the equations together, eliminating one variable. If not, use multiplication by a nonzero number so that one of the variables in the top equation has the opposite coefficient of the same variable in the bottom equation, then add the equations to eliminate the variable.
  3. Solve the resulting equation for the remaining variable.
  4. Substitute that value into one of the original equations and solve for the second variable.
  5. Check the solution by substituting the values into the other equation.

Questions & Answers

A laser rangefinder is locked on a comet approaching Earth. The distance g(x), in kilometers, of the comet after x days, for x in the interval 0 to 30 days, is given by g(x)=250,000csc(π30x). Graph g(x) on the interval [0, 35]. Evaluate g(5)  and interpret the information. What is the minimum distance between the comet and Earth? When does this occur? To which constant in the equation does this correspond? Find and discuss the meaning of any vertical asymptotes.
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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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