Perpendicular

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In geometry, two lines or planes (or a line and a plane) are considered perpendicular (or orthogonal) to each other if they form congruent adjacent angles (a T-shape). The term may be used as a noun or adjective. Thus, as illustrated, the line AB is the perpendicular to CD through the point B.

By definition, a line is infinitely long, and strictly speaking AB and CD in this example represent line segments of two infinitely long lines. Hence the line segment AB does not have to intersect line segment CD to be considered perpendicular lines, because if the line segments are extended out to infinity, they would still form congruent adjacent angles.

If a line is perpendicular to another as shown, all of the angles created by their intersection are called right angles (right angles measure π/2 radians, or 90°). Conversely, any lines that meet to form right angles are perpendicular.

In a coordinate plane, perpendicular lines have opposite reciprocal slopes. A horizontal line has slope equal to zero while the slope of a vertical line is described as undefined or sometimes ±infinity. Two lines that are perpendicular would be denoted as AB\perpCD

Contents

Numerical criteria

In terms of slopes

In a Cartesian coordinate system, two straight lines L and M may be described by equations.

as long as neither is vertical. Then a and c are the slopes of the two lines. The lines L and M are perpendicular if and only if the product of their slopes is -1, or if ac = − 1.

Construction of the perpendicular

To make the perpendicular to the line AB through the point P using compass and straightedge, proceed as follows (see figure):

  • Step 1 (red): construct a circle with center at P to create points A' and B' on the line AB, which are equidistant from P.
  • Step 2 (green): construct circles centered at A' and B', both passing through P. Let Q be the other point of intersection of these two circles.
  • Step 3 (blue): connect P and Q to construct the desired perpendicular PQ.

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