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Triangles

triangle is a polygon with three edges and three vertices. It is one of the basic shapes in geometry. A triangle with vertices AB, and C is denoted \triangle ABC.

In Euclidean geometry any three points, when non-collinear, determine a unique triangle and a unique plane (i.e. a two-dimensional Euclidean space). This article is about triangles in Euclidean geometry except where otherwise noted.

Types of Triangles

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

  • An equilateral triangle has all sides the same length. An equilateral triangle is also a regular polygon with all angles measuring 60°.[1]
  • An isosceles triangle has two sides of equal length.[note 1][2] An isosceles triangle also has two angles of the same measure; namely, the angles opposite to the two sides of the same length; this fact is the content of the isosceles triangle theorem, which was known by Euclid. Some mathematicians define an isosceles triangle to have exactly two equal sides, whereas others define an isosceles triangle as one with at least two equal sides.[2] The latter definition would make all equilateral triangles isosceles triangles. The 45–45–90 right triangle, which appears in the tetrakis square tiling, is isosceles.
  • scalene triangle has all its sides of different lengths.[3] Equivalently, it has all angles of different measure. A right triangle is also a scalene triangle if and only if it is not isosceles.
Equilateral Triangle Isosceles triangle Scalene triangle
Equilateral Isosceles Scalene

Hatch marks, also called tick marks, are used in diagrams of triangles and other geometric figures to identify sides of equal lengths. A side can be marked with a pattern of “ticks”, short line segments in the form of tally marks; two sides have equal lengths if they are both marked with the same pattern. In a triangle, the pattern is usually no more than 3 ticks. An equilateral triangle has the same pattern on all 3 sides, an isosceles triangle has the same pattern on just 2 sides, and a scalene triangle has different patterns on all sides since no sides are equal. Similarly, patterns of 1, 2, or 3 concentric arcs inside the angles are used to indicate equal angles. An equilateral triangle has the same pattern on all 3 angles, an isosceles triangle has the same pattern on just 2 angles, and a scalene triangle has different patterns on all angles since no angles are equal.

By internal angles

Triangles can also be classified according to their internal angles, measured here in degrees.

  • right triangle (or right-angled triangle, formerly called a rectangled triangle) has one of its interior angles measuring 90° (a right angle). The side opposite to the right angle is the hypotenuse, the longest side of the triangle. The other two sides are called the legs or catheti[4] (singular: cathetus) of the triangle. Right triangles obey the Pythagorean theorem: the sum of the squares of the lengths of the two legs is equal to the square of the length of the hypotenuse:a2 + b2 = c2, where a and b are the lengths of the legs and c is the length of the hypotenuse. Special right triangles are right triangles with additional properties that make calculations involving them easier. One of the two most famous is the 3–4–5 right triangle, where 32 + 42 = 52. In this situation, 3, 4, and 5 are aPythagorean triple. The other one is an isosceles triangle that has 2 angles that each measure 45 degrees.
  • Triangles that do not have an angle measuring 90° are called oblique triangles.
  • A triangle with all interior angles measuring less than 90° is an acute triangle or acute-angled triangle. If c is the length of the longest side, then a2 + b2 > c2, where a and b are the lengths of the other sides.
  • A triangle with one interior angle measuring more than 90° is an obtuse triangle or obtuse-angled triangle. If c is the length of the longest side, then a2 + b2 < c2, where a and b are the lengths of the other sides.
  • A triangle with an interior angle of 180° (and collinear vertices) is degenerate.
  • A right degenerate triangle has collinear vertices, two of which are coincident.

A triangle that has two angles with the same measure also has two sides with the same length, and therefore it is an isosceles triangle. It follows that in a triangle where all angles have the same measure, all three sides have the same length, and such a triangle is therefore equilateral.

Right triangle Obtuse triangle Acute triangle
Right Obtuse Acute
\underbrace{\qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad \qquad}_{}
Oblique

 

Triangles are assumed to be two-dimensional plane figures, unless the context provides otherwise (see Non-planar triangles, below). In rigorous treatments, a triangle is therefore called a 2-simplex (see also Polytope). Elementary facts about triangles were presented by Euclid in books 1–4 of his Elements, around 300 BC.

The measures of the interior angles of the triangle always add up to 180 degrees (same color to point out they are equal).

The sum of the measures of the interior angles of a triangle in Euclidean space is always 180 degrees.[5] This fact is equivalent to Euclid’s parallel postulate. This allows determination of the measure of the third angle of any triangle given the measure of two angles. An exterior angle of a triangle is an angle that is a linear pair (and hence supplementary) to an interior angle. The measure of an exterior angle of a triangle is equal to the sum of the measures of the two interior angles that are not adjacent to it; this is the exterior angle theorem. The sum of the measures of the three exterior angles (one for each vertex) of any triangle is 360 degrees.[note 2]

Similarity and congruence

Two triangles are said to be similar if every angle of one triangle has the same measure as the corresponding angle in the other triangle. The corresponding sides of similar triangles have lengths that are in the same proportion, and this property is also sufficient to establish similarity.

Some basic theorems about similar triangles are:

  • If and only if one pair of internal angles of two triangles have the same measure as each other, and another pair also have the same measure as each other, the triangles are similar.
  • If and only if one pair of corresponding sides of two triangles are in the same proportion as are another pair of corresponding sides, and their included angles have the same measure, then the triangles are similar. (The included angle for any two sides of a polygon is the internal angle between those two sides.)
  • If and only if three pairs of corresponding sides of two triangles are all in the same proportion, then the triangles are similar.[note 3]

Two triangles that are congruent have exactly the same size and shape:[note 4] all pairs of corresponding interior angles are equal in measure, and all pairs of corresponding sides have the same length. (This is a total of six equalities, but three are often sufficient to prove congruence.)

Some individually necessary and sufficient conditions for a pair of triangles to be congruent are:

  • SAS Postulate: Two sides in a triangle have the same length as two sides in the other triangle, and the included angles have the same measure.
  • ASA: Two interior angles and the included side in a triangle have the same measure and length, respectively, as those in the other triangle. (The included sidefor a pair of angles is the side that is common to them.)
  • SSS: Each side of a triangle has the same length as a corresponding side of the other triangle.
  • AAS: Two angles and a corresponding (non-included) side in a triangle have the same measure and length, respectively, as those in the other triangle. (This is sometimes referred to as AAcorrS and then includes ASA above.)

Some individually sufficient conditions are:

  • Hypotenuse-Leg (HL) Theorem: The hypotenuse and a leg in a right triangle have the same length as those in another right triangle. This is also called RHS (right-angle, hypotenuse, side).
  • Hypotenuse-Angle Theorem: The hypotenuse and an acute angle in one right triangle have the same length and measure, respectively, as those in the other right triangle. This is just a particular case of the AAS theorem.

An important condition is:

  • Side-Side-Angle (or Angle-Side-Side) condition: If two sides and a corresponding non-included angle of a triangle have the same length and measure, respectively, as those in another triangle, then this is not sufficient to prove congruence; but if the angle given is opposite to the longer side of the two sides, then the triangles are congruent. The Hypotenuse-Leg Theorem is a particular case of this criterion. The Side-Side-Angle condition does not by itself guarantee that the triangles are congruent because one triangle could be obtuse-angled and the other acute-angled.

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.

Right triangles

The Pythagorean theorem

A central theorem is the Pythagorean theorem, which states in any right triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuseequals 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 has a right angle opposite side c.

Some other facts about right triangles:

a + b + 90^{\circ} = 180^{\circ} \Rightarrow a + b = 90^{\circ} \Rightarrow a = 90^{\circ} - b
  • If the legs of a right triangle have the same length, then the angles opposite those legs have the same measure. Since these angles are complementary, it follows that each measures 45 degrees. By the Pythagorean theorem, the length of the hypotenuse is the length of a leg times √2.
  • In a right triangle with acute angles measuring 30 and 60 degrees, the hypotenuse is twice the length of the shorter side, and the longer side is equal to the length of the shorter side times √3:
c = 2a\,
b = a\times\sqrt{3}.

For all triangles, angles and sides are related by the law of cosines and law of sines (also called the cosine rule and sine rule).

Points, lines, and circles associated with a triangle

There are thousands of different constructions that find a special point associated with (and often inside) a triangle, satisfying some unique property: see the articleEncyclopedia of Triangle Centers 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.

The circumcenter is the center of a circle passing through the three vertices of the triangle.

perpendicular bisector of a side of a triangle is a straight line passing through the midpoint of the 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’scircumcenter, usually denoted by O; this point is the center of the circumcircle, the circle passing through all three vertices. The diameter of this circle, called the circumdiameter, can be found from the law of sines stated above. The circumcircle’s radius is called the circumradius.

Thales’ theorem implies that if the circumcenter is located on one side of the triangle, then the opposite angle is a right one. 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.

The intersection of the altitudes is the orthocenter.

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 theorthocenter of the triangle, usually denoted by H. The orthocenter lies inside the triangle if and only if the triangle is acute.

The intersection of the angle bisectors is the center of the incircle.

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, theincenter, usually denoted by I, the center of the triangle’s incircle. The incircle is the circle which lies inside the triangle and touches all three sides. Its radius is called theinradius. 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 anorthocentric system.

The intersection of the medians is the centroid.

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 or geometric barycenter, usually denoted by G. The centroid of a rigid triangular object (cut out of a thin sheet of uniform density) is also its center of mass: the object can be balanced on its centroid in a uniform gravitational field. 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.

Nine-point circle demonstrates a symmetry where six points lie on the edge of the triangle.

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 theorthocenter. 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.

Euler’s line is a straight line through the centroid (orange), orthocenter (blue), circumcenter (green) and center of the nine-point circle (red).

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Edzai Conilias Zvobwo is passionate about empowering Africans through mathematics, problem-solving techniques and media. As such, he founded MathsGee. Through this organisation, he has helped create an ecosystem for disseminating information, training, and supporting STEM education to all African people. A maths evangelist who teaches mathematical thinking as a life skill, Edzai’s quest has seen him being named the SABC Ambassador for STEM; he has been invited to address Fortune 500 C-suite executives at the Mobile 360 North America; was nominated to represent Southern Africa at the inaugural United Nations Youth Skills Day in New York; was invited to be a contributor to the World Bank Group Youth Summit in 2016; has won the 2014 SADC Protocol on Gender and Development award for his contribution to women’s empowerment in education; and has partnered with local and global firms in STEM interventions.

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