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This refresher on solving absolute value inequalities lets you practice writing solutions using interval notation. You will also practice graphical analysis of absolute value inequalities.

As we know, the absolute value of a quantity is a positive number or zero. From the origin, a point located at has an absolute value of , as it is units away. Consider absolute value as the distance from one point to another point. Regardless of direction, positive or negative, the distance between the two points is represented as a positive number or zero.

An absolute value inequality is an equation of the form

Where , and sometimes , represents an algebraic expression dependent on a variable . Solving the inequality means finding the set of all -values that satisfy the problem. Usually this set will be an interval or the union of two intervals and will include a range of values.

There are two basic approaches to solving absolute value inequalities: graphical and algebraic. The advantage of the graphical approach is we can read the solution by interpreting the graphs of two equations. The advantage of the algebraic approach is that solutions are exact, as precise solutions are sometimes difficult to read from a graph.

Suppose we want to know all possible returns on an investment if we could earn some amount of money within of . We can solve algebraically for the set of -values such that the distance between and 600 is less than or equal to . We represent the distance between and 600 as , and therefore, or

This means our returns would be between and .

To solve absolute value inequalities, just as with absolute value equations, we write two inequalities and then solve them independently.

For an algebraic expression , and , an absolute value inequality is an inequality of the form.

These statements also apply to and .

Describe all values within a distance of from the number .

We want the distance between and to be less than or equal to . We can draw a number line, such as in Figure 4 to represent the condition to be satisfied.

Figure 4

The distance from to can be represented using an absolute value symbol, . Write the values of that satisfy the condition as an absolute value inequality.

We need to write two inequalities as there are always two solutions to an absolute value equation.

If the solution set is and , then the solution set is an interval including all real numbers between and including and .

So is equivalent to in interval notation.

Describe all -values within a distance of from the number .

Given the equation , determine the -values for which the -values are negative.

We are trying to determine where , which is when . We begin by isolating the absolute value.

Next, we solve for the equality .

Now, we can examine the graph to observe where the -values are negative. We observe where the branches are below the -axis. Notice that it is not important exactly what the graph looks like, as long as we know that it crosses the horizontal axis at and , and that the graph opens downward. See Figure 5.

Figure 5

Source: Rice University, https://openstax.org/books/college-algebra/pages/2-7-linear-inequalities-and-absolute-value-inequalities

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