Definitions

obtuse-angled triangle

Triangle

[trahy-ang-guhl]

A triangle is one of the basic shapes of geometry: a polygon with three corners or vertex and three sides or edges which are line segments. A triangle with vertices A, B, and C is denoted .

In Euclidean geometry any three non-collinear points determine a unique triangle and a unique plane (i.e. a two-dimensional Euclidean space).

Types of triangles

Triangles can be classified according to the relative lengths of their sides:

  • In an equilateral triangle, all sides are of equal length. An equilateral triangle is also an equiangular polygon, i.e. all its internal angles are equal—namely, 60°; it is a regular polygon.
  • In an isosceles triangle, two sides are of equal length (originally and conventionally limited to exactly two). An isosceles triangle also has two equal angles: the angles opposite the two equal sides.
  • In a scalene triangle, all sides have different lengths. The internal angles in a scalene triangle are all different.

EquilateralIsoscelesScalene

Triangles can also be classified according to their internal angles, described below using degrees of arc:

  • A right triangle (or right-angled triangle, formerly called a rectangled triangle) has one 90° internal angle (a right angle). The side opposite to the right angle is the hypotenuse; it is the longest side in the right triangle. The other two sides are the legs or catheti (singular: cathetus) of the triangle.
  • An oblique triangle has no internal angle equal to 90°.
  • An obtuse triangle is an oblique triangle with one internal angle larger than 90° (an obtuse angle).
  • An acute triangle is an oblique triangle with internal angles all smaller than 90° (three acute angles). An equilateral triangle is an acute triangle, but not all acute triangles are equilateral triangles.

Oblique
RightObtuseAcute
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Basic facts

Elementary facts about triangles were presented by Euclid in books 1-4 of his Elements around 300 BCE. A triangle is a polygon and a 2-simplex (see polytope). All triangles are two-dimensional.

The angles of a triangle in Euclidean space always add up to 180 degrees. An exterior angle of a triangle (an angle that is adjacent and supplementary to an internal angle) is always equal to the two angles of a triangle that it is not adjacent/supplementary to; this is the exterior angle theorem. Like all convex polygons, the exterior angles of a triangle add up to 360 degrees.

The sum of the lengths of any two sides of a triangle always exceeds the length of the third side. That is the triangle inequality. (In the special case of equality, two of the angles have collapsed to size zero, and the triangle has degenerated to a line segment.)

Two triangles are said to be similar if and only if the angles of one are equal to the corresponding angles of the other. In this case, the lengths of their corresponding sides are proportional. This occurs for example when two triangles share an angle and the sides opposite to that angle are parallel.

A few basic postulates and theorems about similar triangles:

  • Two triangles are similar if at least two corresponding angles are equal.
  • If two corresponding sides of two triangles are in proportion, and their included angles are equal, the triangles are similar.
  • If three sides of two triangles are in proportion, the triangles are similar.

For two triangles to be congruent, each of their corresponding angles and sides must be equal (6 total). A few basic postulates and theorems about congruent triangles:

  • SAS Postulate: If two sides and the included angles of two triangles are correspondingly equal, the two triangles are congruent.
  • SSS Postulate: If every side of two triangles are correspondingly equal, the triangles are congruent.
  • ASA Postulate: If two angles and the included sides of two triangles are correspondingly equal, the two triangles are congruent.
  • AAS Theorem: If two angles and any side of two triangles are correspondingly equal, the two triangles are congruent.
  • Hypotenuse-Leg Theorem: If the hypotenuses and one leg of two right triangles are correspondingly equal, the triangles are congruent.
  • Hypothenuse-Angle Theorem: If the hypothenuse and an acute angle of one right triangle are congruent to a hypothenuse and an acute angle of another right triangle, then the triangles are congruent

Using right triangles and the concept of similarity, the trigonometric functions sine and cosine can be defined. These are functions of an angle which are investigated in trigonometry.

In Euclidean geometry, the sum of the internal angles of a triangle is equal to 180°. This allows determination of the third angle of any triangle as soon as two angles are known.

A central theorem is the Pythagorean theorem, which states in any right triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the two other sides. If the hypotenuse has length c, and the legs have lengths a and b, then the theorem states that

a^2 + b^2=c^2. ,

The converse is true: if the lengths of the sides of a triangle satisfy the above equation, then the triangle is a right triangle.

Some other facts about right triangles:

  • The acute angles of a right triangle are complementary.
  • If the legs of a right triangle are equal, then the angles opposite the legs are equal, acute and complementary, and thus are both 45 degrees. By the Pythagorean theorem, the length of the hypotenuse is the length of a leg times the square root of two.
  • In a 30-60 right triangle, in which the acute angles measure 30 and 60 degrees, the hypotenuse is twice the length of the shorter side.
  • In all right triangles, the median on the hypotenuse is the half of the hypotenuse.

For all triangles, angles and sides are related by the law of cosines and law of sines.

Points, lines and circles associated with a triangle

There are hundreds of different constructions that find a special point inside a triangle, satisfying some unique property: see the references section for a catalogue of them. Often they are constructed by finding three lines associated in a symmetrical way with the three sides (or vertices) and then proving that the three lines meet in a single point: an important tool for proving the existence of these is Ceva's theorem, which gives a criterion for determining when three such lines are concurrent. Similarly, lines associated with a triangle are often constructed by proving that three symmetrically constructed points are collinear: here Menelaus' theorem gives a useful general criterion. In this section just a few of the most commonly-encountered constructions are explained.

A perpendicular bisector of a triangle is a straight line passing through the midpoint of a side and being perpendicular to it, i.e. forming a right angle with it. The three perpendicular bisectors meet in a single point, the triangle's circumcenter; this point is the center of the circumcircle, the circle passing through all three vertices. The diameter of this circle can be found from the law of sines stated above.

Thales' theorem implies that if the circumcenter is located on one side of the triangle, then the opposite angle is a right one. More is true: if the circumcenter is located inside the triangle, then the triangle is acute; if the circumcenter is located outside the triangle, then the triangle is obtuse.

An altitude of a triangle is a straight line through a vertex and perpendicular to (i.e. forming a right angle with) the opposite side. This opposite side is called the base of the altitude, and the point where the altitude intersects the base (or its extension) is called the foot of the altitude. The length of the altitude is the distance between the base and the vertex. The three altitudes intersect in a single point, called the orthocenter of the triangle. The orthocenter lies inside the triangle if and only if the triangle is acute. The three vertices together with the orthocenter are said to form an orthocentric system.

An angle bisector of a triangle is a straight line through a vertex which cuts the corresponding angle in half. The three angle bisectors intersect in a single point, the incenter, the center of the triangle's incircle. The incircle is the circle which lies inside the triangle and touches all three sides. There are three other important circles, the excircles; they lie outside the triangle and touch one side as well as the extensions of the other two. The centers of the in- and excircles form an orthocentric system.

A median of a triangle is a straight line through a vertex and the midpoint of the opposite side, and divides the triangle into two equal areas. The three medians intersect in a single point, the triangle's centroid. The centroid of a stiff triangular object (cut out of a thin sheet of uniform density) is also its center of gravity: the object can be balanced it on its centroid. The centroid cuts every median in the ratio 2:1, i.e. the distance between a vertex and the centroid is twice the distance between the centroid and the midpoint of the opposite side.

The midpoints of the three sides and the feet of the three altitudes all lie on a single circle, the triangle's nine-point circle. The remaining three points for which it is named are the midpoints of the portion of altitude between the vertices and the orthocenter. The radius of the nine-point circle is half that of the circumcircle. It touches the incircle (at the Feuerbach point) and the three excircles.

The centroid (yellow), orthocenter (blue), circumcenter (green) and barycenter of the nine-point circle (red point) all lie on a single line, known as Euler's line (red line). The center of the nine-point circle lies at the midpoint between the orthocenter and the circumcenter, and the distance between the centroid and the circumcenter is half that between the centroid and the orthocenter.

The center of the incircle is not in general located on Euler's line.

If one reflects a median at the angle bisector that passes through the same vertex, one obtains a symmedian. The three symmedians intersect in a single point, the symmedian point of the triangle.

Computing the area of a triangle

Calculating the area of a triangle is an elementary problem encountered often in many different situations. The best known and simplest formula is:
S=frac{1}{2}bh
where S is area, b is the length of the base of the triangle, and h is the height or altitude of the triangle. The term 'base' denotes any side, and 'height' denotes the length of a perpendicular from the point opposite the side onto the side itself.

Although simple, this formula is only useful if the height can be readily found. For example, the surveyor of a triangular field measures the length of each side, and can find the area from his results without having to construct a 'height'. Various methods may be used in practice, depending on what is known about the triangle. The following is a selection of frequently used formulae for the area of a triangle.

Using vectors

The area of a parallelogram can be calculated using vectors. Let vectors AB and AC point respectively from A to B and from A to C. The area of parallelogram ABDC is then |{AB}times{AC}|, which is the magnitude of the cross product of vectors AB and AC. |{AB}times{AC}| is equal to |{h}times{AC}|, where h represents the altitude h as a vector.

The area of triangle ABC is half of this, or S = frac{1}{2}|{AB}times{AC}|.

The area of triangle ABC can also be expressed in terms of dot products as follows:

frac{1}{2} sqrt{(mathbf{AB} cdot mathbf{AB})(mathbf{AC} cdot mathbf{AC}) -(mathbf{AB} cdot mathbf{AC})^2} =frac{1}{2} sqrt{ |mathbf{AB}|^2 |mathbf{AC}|^2 -(mathbf{AB} cdot mathbf{AC})^2} , .

Using trigonometry

The height of a triangle can be found through an application of trigonometry. Using the labelling as in the image on the left, the altitude is h = a sin γ. Substituting this in the formula S = ½bh derived above, the area of the triangle can be expressed as:

S = frac{1}{2}absin gamma = frac{1}{2}bcsin alpha = frac{1}{2}casin beta.

Furthermore, since sin α = sin (π - α) = sin (β + γ), and similarly for the other two angles:

S = frac{1}{2}absin (alpha+beta) = frac{1}{2}bcsin (beta+gamma) = frac{1}{2}casin (gamma+alpha).

Using coordinates

If vertex A is located at the origin (0, 0) of a Cartesian coordinate system and the coordinates of the other two vertices are given by B = (xByB) and C = (xCyC), then the area S can be computed as ½ times the absolute value of the determinant

S=frac{1}{2}left|detbegin{pmatrix}x_B & x_C y_B & y_C end{pmatrix}right| = frac{1}{2}|x_B y_C - x_C y_B|.

For three general vertices, the equation is:

S=frac{1}{2} left| detbegin{pmatrix}x_A & x_B & x_C y_A & y_B & y_C 1 & 1 & 1end{pmatrix} right| = frac{1}{2} big| x_A y_C - x_A y_B + x_B y_A - x_B y_C + x_C y_B - x_C y_A big|
S= frac{1}{2} big| (x_C - x_A) (y_B - y_A) - (x_B - x_A) (y_C - y_A) big|.

In three dimensions, the area of a general triangle {A = (xAyAzA), B = (xByBzB) and C = (xCyCzC)} is the Pythagorean sum of the areas of the respective projections on the three principal planes (i.e. x = 0, y = 0 and z = 0):

S=frac{1}{2} sqrt{ left(detbegin{pmatrix} x_A & x_B & x_C y_A & y_B & y_C 1 & 1 & 1 end{pmatrix} right)^2 +
left(detbegin{pmatrix} y_A & y_B & y_C z_A & z_B & z_C 1 & 1 & 1 end{pmatrix} right)^2 + left(detbegin{pmatrix} z_A & z_B & z_C x_A & x_B & x_C 1 & 1 & 1 end{pmatrix} right)^2 }.

Using Heron's formula

The shape of the triangle is determined by the lengths of the sides alone. Therefore the area S also can be derived from the lengths of the sides. By Heron's formula:
S = sqrt{s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c)}

where s = ½ (a + b + c) is the semiperimeter, or half of the triangle's perimeter.

Three equivalent ways of writing Heron's formula are

S = frac{1}{4} sqrt{(a^2+b^2+c^2)^2-2(a^4+b^4+c^4)}

S = frac{1}{4} sqrt{2(a^2b^2+a^2c^2+b^2c^2)-(a^4+b^4+c^4)}

S = frac{1}{4} sqrt{(a+b-c) (a-b+c) (-a+b+c) (a+b+c)}.

Computing the sides and angles

In general, there are various accepted methods of calculating the length of a side or the size of an angle. Whilst certain methods may be suited to calculating values of a right-angled triangle, others may be required in more complex situations.

The sine and cosine rules

The law of sines, or sine rule, states that the ratio of the length of a side a to its corresponding angle A is equal to the ratio of the length of a side b to its corresponding angle B.

frac{a}{sin A} = frac{b}{sin B} = frac{c}{sin C}

The law of cosines, or cosine rule, connects the length of an unknown side of a triangle to the length of the other sides and the angle opposite to the unknown side. As shown in the accompanying diagram, given two known lengths of a triangle a and b, and the angle between the two known sides gamma (or the angle opposite to the unknown side c), to calculate the third side c, the following formula can be used:

c^2 = a^2 + b^2 - 2abcos(gamma)

Trigonometric ratios in right triangles

In right triangles, the trigonometric ratios of sine, cosine and tangent can be used to find unknown angles and the lengths of unknown sides. The sides of the triangle are known as follows:

  • The hypotenuse is the side opposite the right angle, or defined as the longest side of a right-angled triangle, in this case h.
  • The opposite side is the side opposite to the angle we are interested in, in this case a.
  • The adjacent side is the side that is in contact with the angle we are interested in and the right angle, hence its name. In this case the adjacent side is b.

Sine, cosine and tangent

The sine of an angle is the ratio of the length of the opposite side to the length of the hypotenuse. In our case
sin A = frac {textrm{opposite}} {textrm{hypotenuse}} = frac {a} {h},.
Note that this ratio does not depend on the particular right triangle chosen, as long as it contains the angle A, since all those triangles are similar.

The cosine of an angle is the ratio of the length of the adjacent side to the length of the hypotenuse. In our case

cos A = frac {textrm{adjacent}} {textrm{hypotenuse}} = frac {b} {h},.

The tangent of an angle is the ratio of the length of the opposite side to the length of the adjacent side. In our case

tan A = frac {textrm{opposite}} {textrm{adjacent}} = frac {a} {b},.

The acronym "SOHCAHTOA" is a useful mnemonic for these ratios.

Inverse functions

The inverse trigonometric functions can also be useful when trying to determine the remaining two angles of a right triangle when you already know the length of the sides of the triangle. Using the inverse sine or arcsine, we can use a simple ratio to calculate an angle from the ratio of two sides:

theta = arcsin left(frac{text{opposite}}{text{hypotenuse}} right).

Often, the hypotenuse is unknown and would need to be calculated before using arcsin or arccos. Arctan comes in handy in this situation. You can compute the angle of the triangles without knowing the length of the hypotenuse.

theta = arctan left(frac{text{opposite}}{text{adjacent}} right).

For example, you can calculate the slope of a roof line if you know the rise and run of the roof. If the roof drops 8 feet (a negative rise of 8) as it runs out 20 feet (a positive run of 20), then your roof is angled θ degrees up from horizontal, where θ may be computed as follows:

begin{align}
theta &{}= arctan left(frac{text{opposite}}{text{adjacent}} right) &{}= arctan left(frac{text{rise}}{text{run}} right) &{}= arctan left(frac{8}{20} right) &{}= 21.8^{circ}. end{align}

Non-planar triangles

A non-planar triangle is a triangle which is not contained in a (flat) plane. Examples of non-planar triangles in noneuclidean geometries are spherical triangles in spherical geometry and hyperbolic triangles in hyperbolic geometry.

While all regular, planar (two dimensional) triangles contain angles that add up to 180°, there are cases in which the angles of a triangle can be greater than or less than 180°. In curved figures, a triangle on a negatively curved figure ("saddle") will have its angles add up to less than 180° while a triangle on a positively curved figure ("sphere") will have its angles add up to more than 180°. Thus, if one were to draw a giant triangle on the surface of the Earth, one would find that the sum of its angles were greater than 180°.

See also

References

External links

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