We will start off this chapter with a fairly short section
with some basic terminology that we use on a fairly regular basis in solving
equations and inequalities.
First, a solution
to an equation or inequality is any number that, when plugged into the
equation/inequality, will satisfy the equation/inequality. So, just what do we mean by satisfy? Let’s work an example or two to illustrate
this.
Example 1 Show
that each of the following numbers are solutions to the given equation or
inequality.
(a) in [Solution]
(b) in [Solution]
(c) in [Solution]
(d) in [Solution]
Solution
(a) We first plug the proposed solution into the equation.
So, what we are asking here is does the right side equal
the left side after we plug in the proposed solution. That is the meaning of the “?” above the
equal sign in the first line.
Since the right side and the left side are the same we say
that satisfies
the equation.
[Return to Problems]
(b) So, we want to see if satisfies the equation. First plug the value into the equation.
So, satisfies the equation and so is a solution.
[Return to Problems]
(c) In this case we’ve got an inequality and in this case
“satisfy” means something slightly different.
In this case we will say that a number will satisfy the inequality if,
after plugging it in, we get a true inequality as a result.
Let’s check .
So, 8 is less than or equal to 4 (in fact it’s less than)
and so we have a true inequality.
Therefore will satisfy the inequality and hence is a
solution
[Return to Problems]
(d) This is the same inequality with a different value so let’s
check that.
In this case 20 is less than or equal to 20 (in this
case it’s equal) and so again we get a true inequality and so satisfies the inequality and so will be a
solution.
[Return to Problems]

We should also do a quick example of numbers that aren’t
solution so we can see how these will work as well.
Example 2 Show
that the following numbers aren’t solutions to the given equation or
inequality.
(a) in [Solution]
(b) in [Solution]
Solution
(a) In this case we do essentially the same thing that we did in
the previous example. Plug the number
in and show that this time it doesn’t satisfy the equation. For equations that will mean that the right
side of the equation will not equal the left side of the equation.
So, 3 is not the same as 13 and so the equation isn’t
satisfied. Therefore isn’t a solution to the equation.
[Return to Problems]
(b) This time we’ve got an inequality. A number will not satisfy an inequality if
we get an inequality that isn’t true after plugging the number in.
In this case 34 is NOT less than or equal to 48 and so
the inequality isn’t satisfied.
Therefore is not a solution to the inequality.
[Return to Problems]

Now, there is no reason to think that a given equation or
inequality will only have a single solution.
In fact, as the first example showed the inequality has at least two solutions. Also, you might have noticed that is not the only solution to . In this case is also a solution.
We call the complete set of all solutions the solution set for the equation or
inequality. There is also some formal
notation for solution sets although we won’t be using it all that often in this
course. Regardless of that fact we should
still acknowledge it.
For equations we denote the solution set by enclosing all
the solutions is a set of braces, . For the two equations we looked at above here
are the solution sets.
For inequalities we have a similar notation. Depending on the complexity of the inequality
the solution set may be a single number or it may be a range of numbers. If it is a single number then we use the same
notation as we used for equations. If
the solution set is a range of numbers, as the one we looked at above is, we
will use something called set builder notation.
Here is the solution set for the inequality we looked at above.
This is read as : “The set of all z such that z is greater
than or equal to 5”.
Most of the inequalities that we will be looking at will
have simple enough solution sets that we often just shorthand this as,
There is one final topic that we need to address as far as
solution sets go before leaving this section.
Consider the following equation and inequality.
If we restrict ourselves to only real solutions (which we
won’t always do) then there is no solution to the equation. Squaring x
makes x greater than equal to zero,
then adding 1 onto that means that the left side is guaranteed to be at least
1. In other words, there is no real
solution to this equation. For the same
basic reason there is no solution to the inequality. Squaring any real x makes it positive or zero and so will never be negative.
We need a way to denote the fact that there are no solutions
here. In solution set notation we say
that the solution set is empty and
denote it with the symbol : . This symbol is often called the empty set.
We now need to make a couple of final comments before
leaving this section.
In the above discussion of empty sets we assumed that we were
only looking for real solutions. While
that is what we will be doing for inequalities, we won’t be restricting
ourselves to real solutions with equations.
Once we get around to solving quadratic equations (which is) we will allow solutions to be complex
numbers and in the case looked at above there are complex solutions to . If you don’t know how to find these at this
point that is fine we will be covering that material in a couple of sections. At this point just accept that does have complex solutions.
Finally, as noted above we won’t be using the solution set
notation much in this course. It is a
nice notation and does have some use on occasion especially for complicated
solutions. However, for the vast
majority of the equations and inequalities that we will be looking at will have
simple enough solution sets that it’s just easier to write down the solutions
and let it go at that. Therefore, that
is what we will not be using the notation for our solution sets. However, you should be aware of the notation
and know what it means.