If a line is bending to another as in Figure 1, all of the angles created by their intersection are called right angles (right angles measure ½π 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 .
The perpendiculars to vertical lines are never horizontal lines, and the perpendiculars to horizontal lines are always vertical lines. All horizontal lines are perpendicular to all vertical lines; that is, for any horizontal line and horizontal line , where and are constants, .
To construct the perpendicular to the line AB through the point P using compass and straightedge, proceed as follows (see Figure 2).
To prove that the PQ is perpendicular to AB, use the SSS congruence theorem for triangles QPA' and QPB' to conclude that angles OPA' and OPB' are equal. Then use the SAS congruence theorem for triangles OPA' and OPB' to conclude that angles POA and POB are equal.
As shown in Figure 3, if two lines (a and b) are both perpendicular to a third line (c), all of the angles formed on the third line are right angles. Therefore, in Euclidean geometry, any two lines that are both perpendicular to a third line are parallel to each other, because of the parallel postulate. Conversely, if one line is perpendicular to a second line, it is also perpendicular to any line parallel to that second line.
In Figure 3, all of the orange-shaded angles are congruent to each other and all of the green-shaded angles are congruent to each other, because vertical angles are congruent and alternate interior angles formed by a transversal cutting parallel lines are congruent. Therefore, if lines a and b are parallel, any of the following conclusions leads to all of the others:
In algebra, for any linear equation y=mx + b, the perpendiculars will all have a slope of (-1/m), the opposite reciprocal of the original slope. It is helpful to memorize the slogan "to find the slope of the perpendicular line, flip the fraction and change the sign." Recall that any whole number a is itself over one, and can be written as (a/1)
To find the perpendicular of a given line which also passes through a particular point (x, y), solve the equation y = (-1/m)x + b, substituting in the known values of m, x, and y to solve for b.