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L'Hôpital's Rule

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field, Neils Bohr.



Very loosing speaking, a limit is the value to which a function grows close as the input get closer and closer to some other given value.

A limit involves what is going on around a given point, say “a”. It is the value that a function approaches as its input approaches that point “a” but does not care what the function is at this particular point, f(a).

Limits are essential to calculus and mathematical analysis and the understanding of how functions behave. The concept of a limit can be written or expressed as: $\lim_{x \to a} f(x) = L.$ This is read as “the limit of f as x approaches a equals L”. This means that the value of the function f can be made arbitrarily close to L (and I mean as close as you want, e.g., L ± 0.1, L ± 0.01, L ± 0.001, you get the idea 😄), by choosing values of x sufficiently close to a.

There are several basic methods used to solve limits: direct substitution (the first thing you should always try when calculating limits, is just entering the x value into the function, e.g., $\lim_{x \to 3}(2x^2-4x+1) = 2·3^2-4·3+1 = 18-12+1 = 7$), factorization (this is basically a technique to finding limits that works by cancelling out common factors, e.g., $\lim_{x \to 1} \frac{x^2-2x+1}{x-1} = \lim_{x \to 1} \frac{(x-1)^2}{(x-1)} = \lim_{x \to 1} (x-1) = 0$), and L’Hopital’s rule.

The indeterminate forms are forms whose value cannot be determined when we evaluate limits by substituting the x-value into the function: 0/0, 0·∞, ∞/∞, ∞ − ∞, ∞0, 00, and 1. L’Hopital’s rule is a mathematical technique used to evaluate limits of indeterminate forms, such as 0/0 or infinity/infinity.


$\lim_{x \to 1} \frac{x^3-1}{x^2-1} =$[Indeterminate form, 0/0] = $\lim_{x \to 1} \frac{\frac{x^3-1}{x-1}}{\frac{x^2-1}{x-1}}$ [Notice that the numerator is just $\frac{x^3-1}{x-1} = \frac{f(x)-f(1)}{(x-1)}$ →x→1 f’(1) where f(x) = x3-1, f(1) = 0. Similarly, we can argue about the denominator, g(x) = x2-1] $\lim_{x \to 1} \frac{f(x)}{g(x)} = \lim_{x \to 1} \frac{3x^2}{2x} = \frac{3}{2}.$

More generally, let f and g be differentiable functions, f’ and g’ continuous, f(a) = g(a) = 0, $\lim_{ x \to a}\frac{f(x)}{g(x)} = \lim_{ x \to a}\frac{f(x)/(x-a)}{g(x)/(x-a)}$ =[By assumption, f(a) = g(a) = 0] $\frac{\lim_{ x \to a}\frac{f(x)-f(a)}{(x-a)}}{\lim_{ x \to a}\frac{g(x)-g(a)}{(x-a)}} = \frac{f’(a)}{g’(a)},$ and that works provided that g’(a) ≠ 0.

L’Hôpital’s Rule is a mathematical technique used to evaluate limits of indeterminate forms using derivatives. It states that for functions f and g which are differentiable on an interval I except possible at a point “a” contained in I, if $\lim_{x \to a} f(x) = \lim_{x \to a} g(x) = 0$ or ± ∞, and g'(x) ≠ 0 ∀x ∈ I, except possible at a, then $\lim_{x \to a} \frac{f(x)}{g(x)} = \lim_{x \to a} \frac{f'(x)}{g'(x)},$ provided that the right hand limit exists or equals ± ∞.

Solved exercises

When dealing with limits and facing difficulties in directly evaluating them, approximation methods can be deployed to estimate the limit, e.g., sin(u) ≈u ≈ 0 u ⇒ $\frac{sin(3x)}{sin(2x)}≈\frac{3x}{2x}=\frac{3}{2}.$ Analogously, $\frac{cos(x)-1}{x^2} ≈_{x≈0}\frac{(1-\frac{x^2}{2})-1}{x^2}=\frac{-x^2/2}{x^2}=\frac{-1}{2}.$

This is false because cos(x)/2x indeterminate is of the form “1/0”, and therefore, we are applying L’Hôpital’s Rule wrong, $\lim_{x \to 0+} \frac{cos(x)}{2x} ≠ \lim_{x \to 0+} \frac{-sin(x)}{2}$.


This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License and is based on MIT OpenCourseWare [18.01 Single Variable Calculus, Fall 2007].
  1. NPTEL-NOC IITM, Introduction to Galois Theory.
  2. Algebra, Second Edition, by Michael Artin.
  3. LibreTexts, Calculus. Abstract and Geometric Algebra, Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications (Judson).
  4. Field and Galois Theory, by Patrick Morandi. Springer.
  5. Michael Penn, and MathMajor.
  6. Contemporary Abstract Algebra, Joseph, A. Gallian.
  7. YouTube’s Andrew Misseldine: Calculus. College Algebra and Abstract Algebra.
  8. MIT OpenCourseWare 18.01 Single Variable Calculus, Fall 2007 and 18.02 Multivariable Calculus, Fall 2007.
  9. Calculus Early Transcendentals: Differential & Multi-Variable Calculus for Social Sciences.
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