Linear equation

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A linear equation is an algebraic equation in which each term is either a constant or the product of a constant and (the first power of) a single variable.

Linear equations can have one or more variables. Linear equations occur with great regularity in applied mathematics. While they arise quite naturally when modeling many phenomena, they are particularly useful since many non-linear equations may be reduced to linear equations by assuming that quantities of interest vary to only a small extent from some "background" state.


Linear equations in two variables

A common form of a linear equation in the two variables x and y is

where m and b designate constants. The origin of the name "linear" comes from the fact that the set of solutions of such an equation forms a straight line in the plane. In this particular equation, the constant m determines the slope or gradient of that line, and the constant term "b" determines the point at which the line crosses the y-axis, otherwise known as the y-intercept.

Since terms of a linear equations cannot contain products of distinct or equal variables, nor any power (other than 1) or other function of a variable, equations involving terms such as xy, x2, y1/3, and sin(x) are nonlinear.

Forms for 2D linear equations

Linear equations can be rewritten using the laws of elementary algebra into several different forms. These equations are often referred to as the "equations of the straight line". In what follows x, y and t are variables; other letters represent constants (fixed numbers).

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