Exponential function

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The natural exponential function y = ex

In mathematics, an exponential function is a function of the form

in which the input variable x occurs as an exponent. A function of the form , where is a constant, is also considered an exponential function and can be rewritten as , with .

As functions of a real variable, exponential functions are uniquely characterized by the fact that the growth rate of such a function (i.e., its derivative) is directly proportional to the value of the function. The constant of proportionality of this relationship is the natural logarithm of the base :


The constant e ≈ 2.71828... is the unique base for which the constant of proportionality is 1, so that the function's derivative is itself:


Since changing the base of the exponential function merely results in the appearance of an additional constant factor, it is computationally convenient to reduce the study of exponential functions in mathematical analysis to the study of this particular function, conventionally called the "natural exponential function",[1][2] or simply, "the exponential function" and denoted by

or .

The exponential function satisfies the fundamental multiplicative identity

, for all .

(In fact, this identity extends to complex-valued exponents.) It can be shown that every continuous, nonzero solution of the functional equation is an exponential function, , with .

The argument of the exponential function can be any real or complex number or even an entirely different kind of mathematical object (e.g., a matrix).

Its ubiquitous occurrence in pure and applied mathematics has led mathematician W. Rudin to opine that the exponential function is "the most important function in mathematics".[3] In applied settings, exponential functions model a relationship in which a constant change in the independent variable gives the same proportional change (i.e. percentage increase or decrease) in the dependent variable. Such a situation occurs widely in the natural and social sciences; thus, the exponential function also appears in a variety of contexts within physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematical biology, and economics.

Exponential function
Representation ex
Inverse ln x
Derivative ex
Indefinite integral ex + C

The graph of is upward-sloping, and increases faster as increases. The graph always lies above the -axis but can get arbitrarily close to it for negative ; thus, the -axis is a horizontal asymptote. The slope of the tangent to the graph at each point is equal to its -coordinate at that point, as implied by its derivative function (see above). Its inverse function is the natural logarithm, denoted ,[4] ,[5] or ; because of this, some old texts[6] refer to the exponential function as the antilogarithm.

Formal definition[edit]

The exponential function (in blue), and the sum of the first n + 1 terms of its power series (in red).

The exponential function can be characterized in a variety of equivalent ways. Most commonly, it is defined by the following power series:[3]

Since the radius of convergence of this power series is infinite, this definition is applicable to all complex numbers . The constant e can then be defined as .

The exponential function is often defined as the unique solution of the differential equation

such that y(0) = 1.

Less commonly, the real exponential function is defined as the solution y to the equation

The exponential function can also be defined as the following limit:[7]



The red curve is the exponential function. The black horizontal lines show where it crosses the green vertical lines.

The exponential function arises whenever a quantity grows or decays at a rate proportional to its current value. One such situation is continuously compounded interest, and in fact it was this observation that led Jacob Bernoulli in 1683[8] to the number

now known as e. Later, in 1697, Johann Bernoulli studied the calculus of the exponential function.[8]

If a principal amount of 1 earns interest at an annual rate of x compounded monthly, then the interest earned each month is x/12 times the current value, so each month the total value is multiplied by (1 + x/12), and the value at the end of the year is (1 + x/12)12. If instead interest is compounded daily, this becomes (1 + x/365)365. Letting the number of time intervals per year grow without bound leads to the limit definition of the exponential function,

first given by Euler.[7] This is one of a number of characterizations of the exponential function; others involve series or differential equations.

From any of these definitions it can be shown that the exponential function obeys the basic exponentiation identity,

which justifies the notation ex.

The derivative (rate of change) of the exponential function is the exponential function itself. More generally, a function with a rate of change proportional to the function itself (rather than equal to it) is expressible in terms of the exponential function. This function property leads to exponential growth and exponential decay.

The exponential function extends to an entire function on the complex plane. Euler's formula relates its values at purely imaginary arguments to trigonometric functions. The exponential function also has analogues for which the argument is a matrix, or even an element of a Banach algebra or a Lie algebra.

Derivatives and differential equations[edit]

The derivative of the exponential function is equal to the value of the function. From any point P on the curve (blue), let a tangent line (red), and a vertical line (green) with height h be drawn, forming a right triangle with a base b on the x-axis. Since the slope of the red tangent line (the derivative) at P is equal to the ratio of the triangle's height to the triangle's base (rise over run), and the derivative is equal to the value of the function, h must be equal to the ratio of h to b. Therefore, the base b must always be 1.

The importance of the exponential function in mathematics and the sciences stems mainly from its definition as the unique function which is equal to its derivative and is equal to 1 when x = 0. That is,

Functions of the form cex for constant c are the only functions that are equal to their derivative (by the Picard–Lindelöf theorem). Other ways of saying the same thing include:

  • The slope of the graph at any point is the height of the function at that point.
  • The rate of increase of the function at x is equal to the value of the function at x.
  • The function solves the differential equation y′ = y.
  • exp is a fixed point of derivative as a functional.

If a variable's growth or decay rate is proportional to its size—as is the case in unlimited population growth (see Malthusian catastrophe), continuously compounded interest, or radioactive decay—then the variable can be written as a constant times an exponential function of time. Explicitly for any real constant k, a function f: RR satisfies f′ = kf if and only if f(x) = cekx for some constant c.

Furthermore, for any differentiable function f(x), we find, by the chain rule:

Continued fractions for ex[edit]

A continued fraction for ex can be obtained via an identity of Euler:

The following generalized continued fraction for ez converges more quickly:[9]

or, by applying the substitution z = x/y:

with a special case for z = 2:

This formula also converges, though more slowly, for z > 2. For example:

Complex plane[edit]

Exponential function on the complex plane. The transition from dark to light colors shows that the magnitude of the exponential function is increasing to the right. The periodic horizontal bands indicate that the exponential function is periodic in the imaginary part of its argument.

As in the real case, the exponential function can be defined on the complex plane in several equivalent forms. The most common definition of the complex exponential function parallels the power series definition for real arguments, where the real variable is replaced by a complex one:

Termwise multiplication of two copies of these power series in the Cauchy sense, permitted by Mertens' theorem, shows that the defining multiplicative property of exponential functions continues to hold for all complex arguments:

for all

The definition of the complex exponential function in turn leads to the appropriate definitions extending the trigonometric functions to complex arguments.

In particular, when ( real), the series definition yields the expansion

In this expansion, the rearrangement of the terms into real and imaginary parts is justified by the absolute convergence of the series. The real and imaginary parts of the above expression in fact correspond to the series expansions of and , respectively.

This correspondence provides motivation for defining cosine and sine for all complex arguments in terms of and the equivalent power series:[10]

and for all

The functions exp, cos, and sin so defined have infinite radii of convergence by the ratio test and are therefore entire functions (i.e., holomorphic on ). The range of the exponential function is , while the ranges of the complex sine and cosine functions are both in its entirety, in accord with Picard's theorem, which asserts that the range of a nonconstant entire function is either all of , or excluding one lacunary value.

These definitions for the exponential and trigonometric functions lead trivially to Euler's formula:

for all

We could alternatively define the complex exponential function based on this relationship. If , where and are both real, then we could define its exponential as

where exp, cos, and sin on the right-hand side of the definition sign are to be interpreted as functions of a real variable, previously defined by other means.[11]

For , the relationship holds, so that for real and maps the real line (mod ) to the unit circle. Based on the relationship between and the unit circle, it is easy to see that, restricted to real arguments, the definitions of sine and cosine given above coincide with their more elementary definitions based on geometric notions.

The complex exponential function is periodic with period and holds for all .

When its domain is extended from the real line to the complex plane, the exponential function retains the following properties:

for all .

Extending the natural logarithm to complex arguments yields the complex logarithm log z, which is a multivalued function.

We can then define a more general exponentiation:

for all complex numbers z and w. This is also a multivalued function, even when z is real. This distinction is problematic, as the multivalued functions log z and zw are easily confused with their single-valued equivalents when substituting a real number for z. The rule about multiplying exponents for the case of positive real numbers must be modified in a multivalued context:

, but rather (ez)w
= e(z + 2πin)w
multivalued over integers n

See failure of power and logarithm identities for more about problems with combining powers.

The exponential function maps any line in the complex plane to a logarithmic spiral in the complex plane with the center at the origin. Two special cases might be noted: when the original line is parallel to the real axis, the resulting spiral never closes in on itself; when the original line is parallel to the imaginary axis, the resulting spiral is a circle of some radius.

Computation of ab where both a and b are complex[edit]

Complex exponentiation ab can be defined by converting a to polar coordinates and using the identity (eln(a))b
= ab

However, when b is not an integer, this function is multivalued, because θ is not unique (see failure of power and logarithm identities).

Matrices and Banach algebras[edit]

The power series definition of the exponential function makes sense for square matrices (for which the function is called the matrix exponential) and more generally in any Banach algebra B. In this setting, e0 = 1, and ex is invertible with inverse ex for any x in B. If xy = yx, then ex + y = exey, but this identity can fail for noncommuting x and y.

Some alternative definitions lead to the same function. For instance, ex can be defined as

Or ex can be defined as f(1), where f: RB is the solution to the differential equation f ′(t) = xf(t) with initial condition f(0) = 1.

Lie algebras[edit]

Given a Lie group G and its associated Lie algebra , the exponential map is a map G satisfying similar properties. In fact, since R is the Lie algebra of the Lie group of all positive real numbers under multiplication, the ordinary exponential function for real arguments is a special case of the Lie algebra situation. Similarly, since the Lie group GL(n,R) of invertible n × n matrices has as Lie algebra M(n,R), the space of all n × n matrices, the exponential function for square matrices is a special case of the Lie algebra exponential map.

The identity exp(x + y) = exp(x)exp(y) can fail for Lie algebra elements x and y that do not commute; the Baker–Campbell–Hausdorff formula supplies the necessary correction terms.

Similar properties of e and the function ez[edit]

The function ez is not in C(z) (i.e., is not the quotient of two polynomials with complex coefficients).

For n distinct complex numbers {a1, …, an}, the set {ea1z, …, eanz} is linearly independent over C(z).

The function ez is transcendental over C(z).

exp and expm1[edit]

Some calculators provide a dedicated exp(x) function designed to provide a higher precision than achievable by using ex directly.[12][13]

Based on a proposal by William Kahan and first implemented in the Hewlett-Packard HP-41C calculator in 1979, some scientific calculators, computer algebra systems and programming languages (for example C99[14]) support a special exponential minus 1 function alternatively named E^X-1, expm1(x),[14] expm(x),[12][13] or exp1m(x) to provide more accurate results for values of x near zero compared to using exp(x)-1 directly.[12][13][14] This function is implemented using a different internal algorithm to avoid an intermediate result near 1, thereby allowing both the argument and the result to be near zero.[12][13] Similar inverse functions named lnp1(x),[12][13] ln1p(x) or log1p(x)[14] exist as well.[nb 1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For a similar approach to reduce round-off errors of calculations for certain input values see trigonometric functions like versine, vercosine, coversine, covercosine, haversine, havercosine, hacoversine, hacovercosine, exsecant and excosecant.


  1. ^ Goldstein, Lay; Schneider, Asmar (2006). Brief calculus and its applications (11th ed.). Prentice–Hall. ISBN 0-13-191965-2. 
  2. ^ Courant; Robbins (1996). Stewart, ed. What is Mathematics? An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (2nd revised ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 448. ISBN 0-13-191965-2. This natural exponential function is identical with its derivative. This is really the source of all the properties of the exponential function, and the basic reason for its importance in applications… 
  3. ^ a b Rudin, Walter (1987). Real and complex analysis (PDF) (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-07-054234-1. 
  4. ^ In pure mathematics, the notation log x generally refers to the natural logarithm of x or a logarithm in general if base is immaterial.
  5. ^ The notation ln x is the ISO standard and is prevalent in the natural sciences and secondary education (US). However, some mathematicians (e.g., Halmos) have criticized this notation and prefer to use log x for the natural logarithm of x.
  6. ^ Converse; Durrell (1911). Plane and spherical trigonometry. C. E. Merrill Co. p. 12. Inverse Use of a Table of Logarithms; that is, given a logarithm, to find the number corresponding to it, (called its antilogarithm) ... 
  7. ^ a b Eli Maor, e: the Story of a Number, p.156.
  8. ^ a b John J O'Connor; Edmund F Robertson. "The number e". School of Mathematics and Statistics. University of St Andrews, Scotland. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  9. ^ "A.2.2 The exponential function." L. Lorentzen and H. Waadeland, Continued Fractions, Atlantis Studies in Mathematics, page 268.
  10. ^ Rudin, Walter (1976). Principles of Mathematical Analysis (PDF). New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 182. ISBN 9780070542358. 
  11. ^ Apostol, Tom M. (1974). Mathematical Analysis (2nd ed.). Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley. p. 19. ISBN 978-0201002881. 
  12. ^ a b c d e HP 48G Series – Advanced User's Reference Manual (AUR) (4 ed.). Hewlett-Packard. December 1994 [1993]. HP 00048-90136, 0-88698-01574-2. Retrieved 2015-09-06. 
  13. ^ a b c d e HP 50g / 49g+ / 48gII graphing calculator advanced user’s reference manual (AUR) (2 ed.). Hewlett-Packard. 2009-07-14 [2005]. HP F2228-90010. Retrieved 2015-10-10. Searchable PDF
  14. ^ a b c d Beebe, Nelson H. F. (2002-07-09). "Computation of expm1 = exp(x)−1" (PDF). 1.00. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Department of Mathematics, Center for Scientific Computing, University of Utah. Retrieved 2015-11-02. 

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