Systems of Linear Equations (2024)

  1. Understand the definition of and what it means to use to label points on a geometric object.
  2. Pictures: solutions of systems of linear equations, parameterized solution sets.
  3. Vocabulary words: consistent, inconsistent, solution set.

During the first half of this textbook, we will be primarily concerned with understanding the solutions of systems of linear equations.


An equation in the unknowns is called linear if both sides of the equation are a sum of (constant) multiples of plus an optional constant.

For instance,

are linear equations, but

are not.

We will usually move the unknowns to the left side of the equation, and move the constants to the right.

A system of linear equations is a collection of several linear equations, like


Definition(Solution sets)
  • A solution of a system of equations is a list of numbers that make all of the equations true simultaneously.
  • The solution set of a system of equations is the collection of all solutions.
  • Solving the system means finding all solutions with formulas involving some number of parameters.

A system of linear equations need not have a solution. For example, there do not exist numbers and making the following two equations true simultaneously:

In this case, the solution set is empty. As this is a rather important property of a system of equations, it has its own name.


A system of equations is called inconsistent if it has no solutions. It is called consistent otherwise.

A solution of a system of equations in variables is a list of numbers. For example, is a solution of (1.1.1). As we will be studying solutions of systems of equations throughout this text, now is a good time to fix our notions regarding lists of numbers.

We use to denote the set of all real numbers, i.e., the number line. This contains numbers like

In other words, is just the set of all (ordered) lists of real numbers. We will draw pictures of in a moment, but keep in mind that this is the definition. For example, and are points of

Example(The number line)

When we just get back: Geometrically, this is the number line.

Example(The Euclidean plane)

When we can think of as the -plane. We can do so because every point on the plane can be represented by an ordered pair of real numbers, namely, its - and -coordinates.


When we can think of as the space we (appear to) live in. We can do so because every point in space can be represented by an ordered triple of real numebrs, namely, its -, -, and -coordinates.

So what is or or These are harder to visualize, so you have to go back to the definition: is the set of all ordered -tuples of real numbers

They are still “geometric” spaces, in the sense that our intuition for and often extends to

We will make definitions and state theorems that apply to any but we will only draw pictures for and

The power of using these spaces is the ability to label various objects of interest, such as geometric objects and solutions of systems of equations, by the points of

In the above examples, it was useful from a psychological perspective to replace a list of four numbers (representing traffic flow) or of 841 numbers (representing a QR code) by a single piece of data: a point in some This is a powerful concept; starting in Section2.2, we will almost exclusively record solutions of systems of linear equations in this way.

Before discussing how to solve a system of linear equations below, it is helpful to see some pictures of what these solution sets look like geometrically.

One Equation in Two Variables

Consider the linear equation We can rewrite this as which defines a line in the plane: the slope is and the -intercept is


For our purposes, a line is a ray that is straight and infinite in both directions.


A plane is a flat sheet that is infinite in all directions.

Two Equations in Two Variables

Now consider the system of two linear equations

Each equation individually defines a line in the plane, pictured below.

A solution to the system of both equations is a pair of numbers that makes both equations true at once. In other words, it as a point that lies on both lines simultaneously. We can see in the picture above that there is only one point where the lines intersect: therefore, this system has exactly one solution. (This solution is as the reader can verify.)

Usually, two lines in the plane will intersect in one point, but of course this is not always the case. Consider now the system of equations

These define parallel lines in the plane.

The fact that that the lines do not intersect means that the system of equations has no solution. Of course, this is easy to see algebraically: if then it is cannot also be the case that

There is one more possibility. Consider the system of equations

The second equation is a multiple of the first, so these equations define the same line in the plane.

In this case, there are infinitely many solutions of the system of equations.

Two Equations in Three Variables

Consider the system of two linear equations

Each equation individually defines a plane in space. The solutions of the system of both equations are the points that lie on both planes. We can see in the picture below that the planes intersect in a line. In particular, this system has infinitely many solutions.

According to this definition, solving a system of equations means writing down all solutions in terms of some number of parameters. We will give a systematic way of doing so in Section1.3; for now we give parametric descriptions in the examples of the previous subsection.


Consider the linear equation of this example. In this context, we call an implicit equation of the line. We can write the same line in parametric form as follows:

This means that every point on the line has the form for some real number In this case, we call a parameter, as it parameterizes the points on the line.

Now consider the system of two linear equations

of this example. These collectively form the implicit equations for a line in (At least two equations are needed to define a line in space.) This line also has a parametric form with one parameter

Note that in each case, the parameter allows us to use to label the points on the line. However, neither line is the same as the number line indeed, every point on the first line has two coordinates, like the point and every point on the second line has three coordinates, like


Consider the linear equation of this example. This is an implicit equation of a plane in space. This plane has an equation in parametric form: we can write every point on the plane as

In this case, we need two parameters and to describe all points on the plane.

Note that the parameters allow us to use to label the points on the plane. However, this plane is not the same as the plane indeed, every point on this plane has three coordinates, like the point

When there is a unique solution, as in this example, it is not necessary to use parameters to describe the solution set.

Systems of Linear Equations (2024)
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