slope of a line

How to find the slope of a line

Practice Problems & examples

The slope of a line characterizes the direction of a line. To find the slope, you divide the difference of the y-coordinates of 2 points on a line by the difference of the x-coordinates of those same 2 points.

slope of a line


Teachers use different words for the y-coordinates and the the x-coordinates.
  1. Some call the y-coordinates the rise and the x-coordinates the run.
  2. Others prefer to use $$ \Delta $$ notation and call the y-coordinates $$ \Delta y$$ , and the x-coordinates the $$ \Delta x$$ .
slope of a line

These words all mean the same thing, which is that the y values are on the top of the formula (numerator) and the x values are on the bottom of the formula (denominator) !

slope of a line

Formulato find the slope of a line

Formula for the slope of a line
Example One

The slope of a line going through the point (1,2) and the point (4,3) is $$ \frac{1}{3}$$.

Remember: difference in the y values goes in the numerator of the slope formula, and the difference in the x values goes in denominator of the formula.

Graph of the slope of a line

Can either point be $$( x_1 , y_1 ) $$ ?

There is only one way to know!

First, let's calculate the slope using point (1,2) , and as you can see: the slope is $$ \frac{1}{3} $$.

Now the other point, let's calculate the slope using point (4,3) , and as you can see, the slope simplifies to the same value : $$ \frac{1}{3} $$.

which point is x1,y1 vs x2 y2 in formula

The work, side by side

point (4,3) as $$ (x_1, y_1 )$$

$$ slope = \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} = \frac{3-2}{4-1} = \frac{1}{3} $$

point (1,2) as $$ (x_1, y_1 )$$

$$ slope = \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} = \frac{2-3}{1-4} = \frac{-1}{-3} = \frac{1}{3} $$

Answer: It does not matter which point you put first. You can start with (4,3) or with (1,2) and, either way, you end with the exact same number! $$ \frac{1}{3} $$

Example 2 of the Slope of A line

The slope of a line through the points (3, 4) and (5, 1) is $$- \frac{3}{2}$$ because every time that the line goes down by 3(the change in y or the rise) the line moves to the right (the run) by 2.

Picture of the slope of a line

Video Tutorial on the Slope of a Line

Slope of vertical and horizontal lines

The slope of a vertical line is undefined

This is because any vertical line has a $$\Delta x$$ or "run" of zero. Whenever zero is the denominator of the fraction in this case of the fraction representing the slope of a line, the fraction is undefined. The picture below shows a vertical line (x=1)

The slope of a horizontal line is zero

This is because any horizontal line has a $$\Delta y$$ or "rise" of zero. Therefore, regardless of what the run is (provided its' not also zero!), the fraction representing slope has a zero in its numerator. Therefore, the slope must evaluate to zero. Below is a picture of a horizontal line--you can see that it does not have any 'rise' to it.

Do any two points on a line have the same slope?

Slope is consistent

Answer: Yes, and this is a fundamental point to remember about calculating slope.

Every line has a consistent slope. In other words, the slope of a line never changes. This fundamental idea means that you can choose ANY two points on a line to find the slope. This should intuitively make sense with your own understanding of a straight line. After all, if the slope of a line could change, then it would be a zigzag line and not a straight line, as you can see in the picture below.

Practice Problems

WARNING! Can you catch the error in the following problem Jennifer was trying to find the slope that goes through the points $$(\color{blue}{1},\color{red}{3})$$ and $$ (\color{blue}{2}, \color{red}{6})$$ . She was having a bit of trouble applying the slope formula, tried to calculate slope 3 times, and she came up with 3 different answers. Can you determine the correct answer?

Problem 1

Find the slope of A line Given Two Points

First Attempt at Slope

$$ slope= \frac{rise}{run} \\= \frac{\color{red}{y_{2}-y_{1}}}{\color{blue}{x_{2}-x_{1}}} \\= \frac{6-3}{1-2} \\= \frac{3}{-1} =\boxed{-3} $$

Second Attempt at Slope

$$ slope= \frac{rise}{run} \\= \frac{\color{red}{y_{2}-y_{1}}}{\color{blue}{x_{2}-x_{1}}} \\= \frac{6-3}{2-1} \\= \frac{3}{1} = \boxed{3} $$

Third Attempt at Slope

$$ slope = \frac{rise}{run} \\= \frac{\color{red}{y_{2}-y_{1}}}{\color{blue}{x_{2}-x_{1}}} \\ =\frac{2-1}{6-3} \\ =\boxed{ \frac{1}{3}} $$

The correct answer is the Second attempt.

The problem with her first attempt was that she did not consistently use the points. What she did, in attempt one, was used

$$ \frac{\color{red}{y{\boxed{_2}}-y_{1}}}{\color{blue}{x\boxed{_{1}}-x_{2}}} $$

The problem with her third attempt was that she did switched the rise and run. In other words, she put the x values on the top and the y values on the bottom which, of course, is not how you do slope!

$$ \cancel {\frac{\color{blue}{x_{2}-x_{1}}}{\color{red}{y_{2}-y_{1}}}} $$

Problem 2

What is the slope of a line that goes through the points (10,3) and (7 , 9)?

$$ \frac{rise}{run}= \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} \\= \frac{9-3}{7-10}= \frac{6}{-3} = -2 $$

Or, you can start with the other point

$$ \frac{3-9}{10-7}=\frac{-6}{3} = -2 $$

Problem 3

A line passes through (4, -2) and (4 , 3). What is its slope?

$$ \frac{rise}{run}= \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} \\ = \frac{-2 - 3}{4- 4} = \frac{-5}{ \color{red}{0}}= \text{undefined} $$

Whenever the run of a line is zero, the slope is undefined. This is because there is a zero in the denominator of the slope! Any the slope of any vertical line is undefined .

Problem 4

A line passes through (2, 10) and (8 , 7). What is its slope?

$$ \frac{rise}{run}= \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} \\ \frac{10 - 7}{2 - 8} = \frac{3}{-6} = -\frac{1}{2} $$

Or, you can start with the other point $$ \frac{7 - 10}{8-2} = \frac{-3}{6} == -\frac{1}{2} $$

Problem 4

A line passes through (7,3) and (8 , 5). What is its slope?

$$ \frac{rise}{run}= \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} \\ \frac{ 5-3}{8-7} = \frac{2}{1} = 2 $$

Or, you can start with the other point $$ \frac{ 3-5}{7-8} = \frac{-2}{-1} = 2 $$

Problem 4

A line passes through (12,11) and (9 , 5). What is its slope?

$$ \frac{rise}{run}= \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} \\ \frac{ 11 - 5}{12-9}= \frac{6}{3}=2 $$

Or, you can start with the other point $$ \frac{ 5-11}{9-12}= \frac{-6}{-3}= 2 $$

Problem 4

What is the slope of a line that goes through (4, 2) and (4, 5)?

$$ \frac{rise}{run}= \frac{y_{2}-y_{1}}{x_{2}-x_{1}} \\ \frac{ 2 - 5}{4-4}= \frac{ -3}{\color{red}{0}}= undefined $$

Slope Practice Problem Generator

You can practice solving this sort of problem as much as you would like with the slope problem generator below.

It will randomly generate numbers and ask for the slope of the line through those two points. You can chose how large the numbers will be by adjusting the difficulty level.

Difficulty Level (Determines how large the numbers are)



back to Erroneous Slope next to How to Find Slope from Graph

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