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## High school geometry

### Course: High school geometry>Unit 5

Lesson 7: Solving for an angle in a right triangle using the trigonometric ratios

# Intro to inverse trig functions

Learn about arcsine, arccosine, and arctangent, and how they can be used to solve for a missing angle in right triangles.
Let's take a look at a new type of trigonometry problem. Interestingly, these problems can't be solved with sine, cosine, or tangent.
A problem: In the triangle below, what is the measure of angle L?
What we know: Relative to angle, L, we know the lengths of the opposite and adjacent sides, so we can write:
tangent, left parenthesis, L, right parenthesis, equals, start fraction, start text, o, p, p, o, s, i, t, e, end text, divided by, start text, a, d, j, a, c, e, n, t, end text, end fraction, equals, start fraction, 35, divided by, 65, end fraction
But this doesn't help us find the measure of angle, L. We're stuck!
What we need: We need new mathematical tools to solve problems like these. Our old friends sine, cosine, and tangent aren’t up to the task. They take angles and give side ratios, but we need functions that take side ratios and give angles. We need inverse trig functions!

## The inverse trigonometric functions

We already know about inverse operations. For example, addition and subtraction are inverse operations, and multiplication and division are inverse operations. Each operation does the opposite of its inverse.
The idea is the same in trigonometry. Inverse trig functions do the opposite of the “regular” trig functions. For example:
• Inverse sine left parenthesis, sine, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, right parenthesis does the opposite of the sine.
• Inverse cosine left parenthesis, cosine, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, right parenthesis does the opposite of the cosine.
• Inverse tangent left parenthesis, tangent, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, right parenthesis does the opposite of the tangent.
In general, if you know the trig ratio but not the angle, you can use the corresponding inverse trig function to find the angle. This is expressed mathematically in the statements below.
Trigonometric functions input angles and output side ratiosInverse trigonometric functions input side ratios and output angles
sine, left parenthesis, theta, right parenthesis, equals, start fraction, start text, o, p, p, o, s, i, t, e, end text, divided by, start text, h, y, p, o, t, e, n, u, s, e, end text, end fractionright arrowsine, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, left parenthesis, start fraction, start text, o, p, p, o, s, i, t, e, end text, divided by, start text, h, y, p, o, t, e, n, u, s, e, end text, end fraction, right parenthesis, equals, theta
cosine, left parenthesis, theta, right parenthesis, equals, start fraction, start text, a, d, j, a, c, e, n, t, end text, divided by, start text, h, y, p, o, t, e, n, u, s, e, end text, end fractionright arrowcosine, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, left parenthesis, start fraction, start text, a, d, j, a, c, e, n, t, end text, divided by, start text, h, y, p, o, t, e, n, u, s, e, end text, end fraction, right parenthesis, equals, theta
tangent, left parenthesis, theta, right parenthesis, equals, start fraction, start text, o, p, p, o, s, i, t, e, end text, divided by, start text, a, d, j, a, c, e, n, t, end text, end fractionright arrowtangent, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, left parenthesis, start fraction, start text, o, p, p, o, s, i, t, e, end text, divided by, start text, a, d, j, a, c, e, n, t, end text, end fraction, right parenthesis, equals, theta

The expression sine, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, left parenthesis, x, right parenthesis is not the same as start fraction, 1, divided by, sine, left parenthesis, x, right parenthesis, end fraction. In other words, the minus, 1 is not an exponent. Instead, it simply means inverse function.
FunctionGraph
sine, left parenthesis, x, right parenthesis
sine, start superscript, minus, 1, end superscript, left parenthesis, x, right parenthesis (also called \arcsin, left parenthesis, x, right parenthesis) |
start fraction, 1, divided by, sine, x, end fraction (also called \csc, left parenthesis, x, right parenthesis) |
However, there is an alternate notation that avoids this pitfall! We can also express the inverse sine as \arcsin, the inverse cosine as \arccos, and the inverse tangent as \arctan. This notation is common in computer programming languages, and less common in mathematics.

## Solving the introductory problem

In the introductory problem, we were given the opposite and adjacent side lengths, so we can use inverse tangent to find the angle.
\begin{aligned} { m\angle L}&=\tan^{-1} \left(\dfrac{\blueD{\text{ opposite }} }{\maroonC{\text{ adjacent}}}\right)&{\gray{\text{Define.}}} \\\\ m\angle L&=\tan^{-1}\left(\dfrac{\blueD{35}}{\maroonC{65}}\right)&{\gray{\text{Substitute values.}}} \\\\ m\angle L &\approx 28.30^\circ &{\gray{\text{Evaluate with a calculator.}}}\end{aligned}

## Now let's try some practice problems.

Problem 1
Given triangle, K, I, P, find m, angle, I.
degrees

Problem 2
Given triangle, D, E, F, find m, angle, E.
degrees

Problem 3
Given triangle, L, Y, N, find m, angle, Y.
degrees

Challenge problem
Solve the triangle completely. That is, find all unknown sides and unknown angles.
O, E, equals
m, angle, O, equals
degrees
m, angle, Z, equals
degrees

## Want to join the conversation?

• this might sound like a silly question, but i was hoping that sin(90) = 2 sin(45).
Why doesn't that work? Trig functions are all about ratios and relations, the least i could expect was to find a relation like that... • Love the site, but slightly thrown having to switch from using DEG mode to RAD mode to get correct answer on inverse trig questions. Would be good to be given a heads-up that this was necessary. And why it was necessary. Which I. Still haven't really figured out! •   DEG mode stands for "degree". This means that your calculator interprets and outputs angles in the unit of degrees. RAD mode stands for "radian". This means that your calculator interprets and outputs angles in the unit of radians. If you are not sure what radians are, I suggest you watch the KA videos on them. Switching between DEG mode and RAD mode on a calculator is similar to switching between "miles per hour" and "kilometers per hour" on a speedometer. You still get the same speeds, but in different units.
Comment if you have questions!
• how to turn calculator on • How to calculate the inverse function in a calculator? • So I know that arcsin ( sin(x) ) = x but... what happens when you do arcsin(x) * sin(x)? • What if we do not want to use a calculator and do it manually? • Then you will need access to trigonometric tables that you can read in reverse. This is how I used to estimate the inverse trigonometric functions when I was in high school. I still have a book of tables to trig functions, logarithms, and z-scores (among other useful relationships) to which I refer when solving some problems, but the modern method of using a calculator or computer to access this information is usually more efficient and precise.
• could some one explain what ' round your answer to the nearest hundredth degree' means. its mentioned in the second practice question. • "To the nearest hundredth of a degree" means to solve it, and then round it to 2 decimal places. The first place is tenths, and the second place is hundredths.
Example: Problem 3.
We're trying to find angle Y. We have the adjacent side length and the hypotenuse length. With the sides adjacent and hypotenuse, we can use the Cosine function to determine angle Y.
CosY = 3/10
CosY = 0.30
This is where the Inverse Functions come in. If we know that CosY = 0.30, we're trying to find the angle Y that has a Cosine 0.30. To do so:   