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More formally, the variable y is said to be proportional (or sometimes directly proportional) to the variable x, if there exists a constant non-zero number k such that
The relation is often denoted
and the constant ratio
is called the proportionality constant or constant of proportionality of the proportionality relation.
- If an object travels at a constant speed, then the distance traveled is proportional to the time spent traveling, with the speed being the constant of proportionality.
- The circumference of a circle is proportional to its diameter, with the constant of proportionality equal to π.
- On a map drawn to scale, the distance between any two points on the map is proportional to the distance between the two locations the points represent, with the constant of proportionality being the scale of the map.
- The amount of force acting on a certain object from the gravity of the Earth at sea level is proportional to the object's mass, with the gravitational constant being the constant of proportionality.
is equivalent to
it follows that if y is proportional to x, with (nonzero) proportionality constant k, then x is also proportional to y with proportionality constant 1/k.
If y is proportional to x, then the graph of y as a function of x will be a straight line passing through the origin with the slope of the line equal to the constant of proportionality.
As noted in the definition above two proportional variables are sometime said to be directly proportional. This is done so as to contrast proportionality with inverse proportionality.
Two variables are inversely proportional (or varying inversely) if one of the variables is directly proportional with the multiplicative inverse of the other, or equivalently if their product is a constant. It follows, that the variable y is inversely proportional to the variable x if there exists a non-zero constant k such that
Basically, the concept of inverse proportion means that as the absolute value or magnitude of one variable gets bigger, the absolute value or magnitude of another gets smaller, such that their product (the constant of proportionality) is always the same.
For example, the time taken for a journey is inversely proportional to the speed of travel; the time needed to dig a hole is (approximately) inversely proportional to the number of people digging.
The graph of two variables varying inversely on the Cartesian coordinate plane is a hyperbola. The product of the X and Y values of each point on the curve will equal the constant of proportionality (k). Since k can never equal zero, the graph will never cross either axis.
Exponential and logarithmic proportionality
A variable y is exponentially proportional to a variable x, if y is directly proportional to the exponential function of x, that is if there exists a non-zero constant k such that
Likewise, a variable y is logarithmically proportional to a variable x, if y is directly proportional to the logarithm of x, that is if there exists a non-zero constant k such that
To determine experimentally whether two physical quantities are directly proportional, one performs several measurements and plots the resulting data points in a Cartesian coordinate system. If the points lie on or close to a straight line that passes through the origin (0, 0), then the two variables are probably proportional, with the proportionality constant given by the line's slope.
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