Skip to main content

7. Differentiating Powers of a Function

by M. Bourne

Function of a Function

If y is a function of u, and u is a function of x, then we say

"y is a function of the function u".

Example 1

Don't miss...

In this section:
Chain Rule
Power Rule

Consider the function

y = (5x + 7)12.

If we let u = 5x + 7 (the inner-most expression), then we could write our original function as

y = u12

We have written y as a function of u, and in turn, u is a function of x.

This is a vital concept in differentiation, since many of the functions we meet from now on will be functions of functions, and we need to recognise them in order to differentiate them properly.

Continues below

Chain Rule

To find the derivative of a function of a function, we need to use the Chain Rule:

`(dy)/(dx) = (dy)/(du) (du)/(dx)`

This means we need to

  1. Recognise `u` (always choose the inner-most expression, usually the part inside brackets, or under the square root sign).
  2. Then we need to re-express `y` in terms of `u`.
  3. Then we differentiate `y` (with respect to `u`), then we re-express everything in terms of `x`.
  4. The next step is to find `(du)/dx`.
  5. Then we multiply `dy/(du)` and `(du)/dx`.

Answer for Example 1

In Example 1,

y = u12, so `(dy)/(du) = 12u^11 = 12(5x+7)^11`

and

u = 5x + 7, so `(du)/(dx) = 5`

So

`dy/dx=(dy)/(du) (du)/(dx) ` `= (12(5x+7)^11)(5) ` `= 60(5x+7)^11`

Example 2

Find `dy/dx` if `y = (x^2+ 3)^5`.

Answer

In this case, we let u = x2 + 3 and then y = u5.

We see that:

  • u is a function of x and
  • y is a function of u.

For the chain rule, we firstly need to find `(dy)/(du)` and `(du)/(dx)`:

`(dy)/(du)=5u^4=5(x^2+3)^4`; and

`(du)/(dx)=2x`

So

`(dy)/(dx)=(dy)/(du)(du)/(dx)`

`=5(x^2+3)^4(2x)`

`=10x(x^2+3)^4`

Play with the graph of this example on the Differentiation interactive applet page and explore what it means.

Example 3

Find `dy/dx` if `y=sqrt(4x^2-x)`.

Answer

In this case, we let u = 4x2x and then `y=sqrtu=u^(1/2)`.

Once again,

  • u is a function of x and
  • y is a function of u.

Using the chain rule, we firstly need to find:

`(dy)/(du)=1/2u^(-1/2)=1/(2sqrtu)=1/(2sqrt(4x^2-x)`

and

`(du)/(dx)=8x-1`

So

`(dy)/(dx)=(dy)/(du)(du)/(dx)`

`=1/(2sqrt(4x^2-x))(8x-1)`

`=(8x-1)/(2sqrt(4x^2-x))`

Note: How does `u^(-1//2)=1/sqrtu`? See:

You can play with this example on the Differentiation interactive applet page.

The Derivative of a Power of a Function (Power Rule)

An extension of the chain rule is the Power Rule for differentiating. We are finding the derivative of un (a power of a function):

`d/dxu^n=n u^(n-1)(du)/dx`

Example 4

In the case of `y=(2x^3-1)^4` we have a power of a function.

Answer

If we let u = 2x3 - 1 then y = u4.

So now

  • y is written as a power of u; and
  • u is a function of x [ u = f(x) ].

To find the derivative of such an expression, we can use our new rule:

`d/(dx)u^n=n u^(n-1)(du)/(dx`

where u = 2x3 − 1 and n = 4.

So

`(dy)/(dx)=n u^(n-1)(du)/(dx)`

`=[4(2x^3-1)^3][6x^2]`

`=24x^2(2x^3-1)^3`

We could, of course, use the chain rule, as before:

`(dy)/(dx)=(dy)/(du)(du)/(dx`

Play with this example on the Differentiation interactive applet page.

Example 5

If `y=1/x`, find `dy/dx`

Answer

We can write `y=1/x` as `y=x^-1`. So:

`dy/dx=(-1)x^-2 = -1/x^2`

You can explore this example on the Differentiation interactive applet page.

CHALLENGE

Find the derivative of `y=(x^2(3x+1))/(x^4+2)`

Answer

In this example, we have a quotient, where the numerator is a product.

Once again, we let `y=u/v`, where `u=x^2(3x+1)` and `v=x^4+2`.

The quotient formula requires `(du)/(dx)` but u is a product.

Let `u = pq` where p = x2 and q = 3x + 1.

`(du)/(dx)=p(dq)/(dx)+q(dp)/(dx)`

`=(x^2)(3)+(3x+1)(2x)`

`=3x^2+6x^2+2x`

`=9x^2+2x`

We also require

`(dv)/(dx)=4x^3`

So

` (dy)/(dx)=(d(u/v))/(dx)=(v(du)/(dx)-u(dv)/(dx))/(v^2)`

`=((x^4+2)(9x^2+2x)-(x^2)(3x+1)(4x^3))/((x^4+2)^2)`

`=(9x^6+2x^5+18x^2+4x-12x^6-4x^5)/((x^4+2)^2)`

`=(-3x^6-2x^5+18x^2+4x)/((x^4+2)^2)`

Play with this challenge example on the Differentiation interactive applet page.

top

Search IntMath, blog and Forum

Search IntMath

Online Algebra Solver

This algebra solver can solve a wide range of math problems.

Calculus Lessons on DVD

Math videos by MathTutorDVD.com

Easy to understand calculus lessons on DVD. See samples before you commit.

More info: Calculus videos

The IntMath Newsletter

Sign up for the free IntMath Newsletter. Get math study tips, information, news and updates each fortnight. Join thousands of satisfied students, teachers and parents!


See the Interactive Mathematics spam guarantee.