How to Find Intercepts in a Rational Function

By Karl Wallulis
A graph's intercepts tell you where it crosses the axes.
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The intercepts of a function are the values of x when f(x) = 0 and the value of f(x) when x = 0, corresponding to the coordinate values of x and y where the graph of the function crosses the x- and y-axes. Find the y-intercept of a rational function as you would for any other type of function: plug in x = 0 and solve. Find the x-intercepts by factoring the numerator. Remember to exclude holes and vertical asymptotes when finding the intercepts.

Plug the value x = 0 into the rational function and determine the value of f(x) to find the y-intercept of the function. For example, plug x = 0 into the rational function f(x) = (x^2 - 3x + 2) / (x - 1) to get the value (0 - 0 + 2) / (0 - 1), which is equal to 2 / -1 or -2 (if the denominator is 0, there is a vertical asymptote or hole at x = 0 and therefore no y-intercept). The y-intercept of the function is y = -2.

Factor the numerator of the rational function completely. In the above example, factor the expression (x^2 - 3x + 2) into (x - 2)(x - 1).

Set the factors of the numerator equal to 0 and solve for the value of the variable to find the potential x-intercepts of the rational function. In the example, set the factors (x - 2) and (x - 1) equal to 0 to get the values x = 2 and x = 1.

Plug the values of x you found in Step 3 into the rational function to verify that they are x-intercepts. X-intercepts are values of x that make the function equal to 0. Plug x = 2 into the example function to get (2^2 - 6 + 2) / (2 - 1), which equals 0 / -1 or 0, so x = 2 is an x-intercept. Plug x = 1 into the function to get (1^2 - 3 + 2) / (1 - 1) to get 0 / 0, which means there is a hole at x = 1, so there is only one x-intercept, x = 2.

About the Author

Karl Wallulis has been writing since 2010. He has written for the Guide to Online Schools website, covering academic and professional topics for young adults looking at higher-education opportunities. Wallulis holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Whitman College.