# Right triangle trigonometry and word problems on the SAT test

### SAT Subscore: Additional topics in math

**Right triangle** is a triangle with a right angle (equal to 90°). The side opposite the right angle (the longest side of the right triangle) is called a hypotenuse.

**Right triangle trigonometry and right triangle word problems** require calculating side lengths and angle measures in right triangles.

**Pythagorean theorem:**

**Pythagorean theorem** states that the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides: **a ^{2} + b^{2} = c^{2}**.

**Pythagorean triples** are combinations of side lengths a, b and c that satisfy the Pythagorean theorem. If you remember the triples values, you know the size of the third side without the need to calculate it. The most common Pythagorean triples are: 3, 4 and 5; 5, 12 and 13; 7, 24 and 25.

**Trigonometric ratios (sine, cosine and tangent):**

**Trigonometric ratios (functions)** represent connections between angle degrees and side lengths in a right triangle:

- The sine of an angle (sin) in a right triangle is defined as the ratio of the length of the side that is
__opposite__to the angle, to the length of the hypotenuse. - The cosine of an angle (cos) in a right triangle is defined as the ratio of the length of the side that is
__adjacent__to the angle, to the length of the hypotenuse. - The tangent of an angle (tan) in a right triangle is defined as the ratio of the length of the side that is
__opposite__to the angle, side that is__adjacent__to the angle.

**Complementary angles** are two angles with the sum of 90 degrees. Sine of an angle (α) in a right triangle is equal to cosine of its complementary angle (90-α).

**Similar triangles** have the same angle measures and their corresponding side lengths are related by a constant ratio therefore they also have similar sine, cosine and tangent.

**Special right triangles:**

**Special right triangles** are right triangles whose sides are in a particular ratio.

**In a 30°, 60°, 90° right triangle**the side opposite the 30° angle is half the length of the hypotenuse and the side opposite to 60° angle is equal to the length of a side opposite to 30° angle multiplied by √3.

In 30°, 60°, 90° triangle the sides are x, x√3 and 2x.**In a 45°, 45°, 90° right triangle**the sides opposite the 45° angles are equal and the hypotenuse is equal to the side opposite to 45° angle multiplied by √2.

In 45°, 45°, 90° triangle the sides are s, s and s√2.

__Continue reading this page for detailed explanations and examples.__

## Pythagorean theorem in right triangles

**Pythagorean theorem** states that the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equals the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides. (The hypotenuse is the side opposite the right angle).

**The formula of the Pythagorean theorem is** **a ^{2} + b^{2} = c^{2}**. This formula is provided at the beginning of each math section followed by a diagram.

The following figure presents a right triangle and the Pythagorean theorem **a ^{2} + b^{2} = c^{2}**.

### Calculating side lengths with Pythagorean theorem

**If we are given the values of two sides of a right triangle,** we can calculate the value of the hypotenuse with the Pythagorean theorem.

**If we are given the values of one side and the hypotenuse of a right triangle,** we can calculate the value of the second side with the Pythagorean theorem.

Consider the following example:

The length of the sides of a right triangle are 3 centimeters and 4 centimeters.

What is the length of the hypotenuse?

The formula of the Pythagorean theorem is a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}.

a=3, b=4, c=?

3^{2} + 4^{2} = c^{2}

c^{2}=9+16

c^{2}=25

c=5

The length of the hypotenuse is 5 centimeters.

__Checking the answer: __

3^{2}+4^{2}=5^{2}

9+16=25

25=25

Consider the following example:

The length of a side of a right triangle is 4 centimeters and the length of the hypotenuse is 8 centimeters.

What is the length of the other side?

The formula of the Pythagorean theorem is a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}.

a=4, b=?, c=8

4^{2}+b^{2}=8^{2}

16+b^{2}=64

b^{2}=64-16

b^{2}=48

b=√48

b=√(4*12)

b=√4*√12

b=2√12=6.93

__Checking the answer: __

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

4^{2}+(2√12)^{2}=8^{2}

16+4*12=64

16+48=64

64=64

### Pythagorean triples in a right triangle

**Pythagorean triples** are combinations of side lengths a, b and c that satisfy the Pythagorean theorem. If you remember the triples values, you know the size of the third side without the need to calculate it.

**The most common Pythagorean triple is 3, 4 and 5**.**Additional Pythagorean triples are:****5, 12 and 13****7, 24 and 25 **

**Note that each multiplication of the triple also satisfies the Pythagorean theorem.**

For example: The triple 9, 12 and 15 is the triple 3, 4 and 5 multiplies by 3. Therefore, the triple 9, 12 and 15 is a Pythagorean triple.

We can check this statement by plugging into the formula of the Pythagorean theorem:

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

9^{2}+12^{2}=15^{2}

81+144=225

225=225

Consider the following example:

The length of a side of a right triangle is 7 centimeters and the length of the hypotenuse is 25 centimeters.

What is the length of the other side?

The triple 7, 24 and 25 is a Pythagorean triple, therefore the length of the second side is 24 centimeters.

__Checking the answer:__

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

7^{2}+b^{2}=25^{2}

b^{2}=25^{2}-7^{2}

b^{2}=625-49

b^{2}=576

b=24

The length of the other side is 24 centimeters.

Consider the following example:

The length of the sides of a right triangle are 10 centimeters and 24 centimeters.

What is the length of the hypotenuse?

The triple 5, 12 and 13 is a Pythagorean triple, the given sides 10 and 24 are the triple sides 5 and 12 multiplied by 2. Therefore, the length of the hypotenuse is 13 multiplied by 2=26 centimeters.

__Checking the answer:__

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

10^{2}+24^{2}=26^{2}

100+576=676

676=676

### Calculating triangles side lengths with Pythagorean theorem and triangles similarity

**Similar triangles** have the same shape, but not the same size (they have the same angle measures, but not the same side lengths).

**The corresponding side lengths of similar **triangles are related by a constant ratio, which is called k.

** ****Note that:****Similar triangles have the same angle measures.****If 2 lines are parallel, the triangles that are formed by them are similar.**

**Given parallel lines and a right triangle,** we can calculate side lengths using triangles similarity combined with the Pythagorean theorem.

Consider the following example:

In the figure below the lines BE and CD are parallel. The angle measures and the side lengths (in centimeters) are given in the figure.

What are the lengths of the sides of triangle ACD?

__Calculating the length of AB:__

Since BE is parallel to CD, the triangles ABE and ACD are similar. Therefore, the angle ACD is equal to the angle ABE and equal to 90 degrees.

Since the angle ABE is equal to 90 degrees, the triangle ABE is a right triangle. Therefore, we can apply the Pythagorean theorem in the triangle ABE:

The sides 3, 4 and 5 are Pythagorean triple, or we can solve the Pythagorean theorem:

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

3^{2}+4^{2}=c^{2}

c^{2}=9+16

c^{2}=25

c=5

AB=5 centimeters

__Calculating the length of CD and DE:__

AC=BC+AB

AC=5+5=10 centimeters

Since the lines BE and CD are parallel, the triangles ACD and ABE are similar. Therefore, the ratio of the related sides is k=AC/AB=10/5=2 (the side of the big triangle divided by the side of the small triangle is equal to 2).

Since k=2, AD/AE=2 and CD/BE=2.

Since AE=4 and k=2, AD/4=2, AD=8 centimeters and DE=AD-AE=8-4=4 centimeters.

Since BE=3 and k=2, CD/3=2, CD=6 centimeters.

__Checking by calculating Pythagorean theorem in the big triangle ACD:__

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

6^{2}+8^{2}=10^{2}

This is a Pythagorean triple 3, 4 and 5 multiplied by 2.

## Trigonometric ratios (sine, cosine and tangent)

**Trigonometric ratios (functions)** represent connections between angle degrees and side lengths in a right triangle.

**The sine of an angle ( sin)** in a right triangle is defined as the ratio of the length of the side that is

__opposite__to the angle, to the length of the hypotenuse. In the figure below in a right triangle ABC, sine (A)= BC/AC.

**The cosine of an angle** **( cos)** in a right triangle is defined as the ratio of the length of the side that is

__adjacent__to the angle, to the length of the hypotenuse. In the figure below in a right triangle ABC, cosine (A)= AB/AC.

**The tangent of an angle ( tan)** in a right triangle is defined as the ratio of the length of the side that is

__opposite__to the angle, side that is

__adjacent__to the angle. In the figure below in a right triangle ABC, tangent (A)= BC/AB.

In the figure below we see a right triangle ABC.**sin (A)=opposite/hypotenuse=BC/AC****cos (A)=adjacent/hypotenuse=AB/AC****tan (A)=opposite/adjacent=BC/AB**

### Sine and cosine of complementary angles

**Complementary angles** are two angles with the sum of 90 degrees.

**Complementary angles** in a right triangle: Since one angle in a right triangle is equal to 90 degrees and the sum of angles of a triangle is 180 degrees, the two other acute angles are complementary.

**Sine of an angle in a right triangle is equal to cosine of its complementary angle. Meaning that given ****two complementary angles α**** and 90-****α**** in a right triangle, sin****α****=cos(90-****α****).**

__Showing the connection between sine and cosine of complementary angles:__

If we represent by α the measure of one angle in a right triangle, then the other angle measure is 90-α (complementary angles).

The figure below presents a right triangle ABC with complementary angles α and 90-α.

sinα=BC/AC

cos(90-α)=BC/AC

We see that sinα=cos(90-α)

Consider the following example:

What is sin (60) is equal to:

A. cos(30)

B. tan(60)

C. sin(30)

D. cos(60)

We know that sinα=cos(90-α), therefore, sin60=cos(90-60)=cos(30).

The answer A is correct.

### Calculation of side lengths with sine, cosine and tangent

**To calculate a side length**, we need to know the value of the trigonometric function (sine, cosine or tangent) and the value of the other side.

Consider the following example:

The figure above represents a right triangle ABC.

If sin(a)= 0.5 and AC=5 centimeters, what is the value of AC?

sin(A)=BC/AC

0.5=BC/5

BC=0.5*5=2.5 centimeters

### Calculation of sine, cosine and tangent in similar triangles

Similar triangles have the same angle measures and their corresponding side lengths are related by a constant ratio** therefore they also have similar sine, cosine and tangent.**

We can calculate sine, cosine or tangent in one triangle and conclude that they are identical in all similar triangles.

__Related corresponding side lengths lead to similar sine, cosine and tangent:__

If the sides of triangle 1 are x, y and z and the sides of a similar triangle 2 are kx,ky and kz (multiplied by a factor of k) then:

The sine of an angle A in triangle 1 is sin A_{1}=x/z

The sine of an angle A in triangle 2 is sin A_{2}=kx/kx=x/z

The sine of triangle 1 is equal to the sine of triangle 2.

Consider the following example:

In the figure below the lines BE and CD are parallel. The angle measures and the side lengths (in centimeters) are given in the figure.

What is the cosine of angle E?

## Special right triangles

**Special right triangles** are right triangles whose sides are in a particular ratio. Two special right triangles are 30°, 60°, 90° triangle and 45°, 45°, 90° triangle.

The special right triangles with the side sizes length are given at the beginning of each SAT section.

__30°, 60°, 90° triangle:__

In a 30°, 60°, 90° right triangle the side opposite the 30° angle is half the length of the hypotenuse and the side opposite to 60° angle is equal to the length of a side opposite to 30° angle multiplied by √3.**In 30°, 60°, 90° triangle the sides are x, x√3 and 2x.**

** **__45°, 45°, 90° triangle:__

In a 45°, 45°, 90° right triangle the sides opposite the 45° angles are equal and the hypotenuse is equal to the side opposite to 45° angle multiplied by √2.**In 45°, 45°, 90° triangle the sides are s, s and s√2.**

The following graphs present the special right triangles with the side sizes length.

### Calculation of side lengths given angle measures in special triangles

**Given the length of any side in a special right triangle, we can calculate the length of the two other sides. **

If you identify that the angles of a right triangle have the measures of 30,60,90 or 45,45,90 you know the ratios between their side length according to the graph presented above:

**In 30°, 60°, 90° triangle the sides are x, x√3 and 2x.**

**In 45°, 45°, 90° triangle the sides are s, s and s√2.**

Consider the following example:

In a right triangle the measures of the angles are 30°, 60°, 90° and the hypotenuse is equal to 8 centimeters.

What are the lengths of the other sides?

__In 30°, 60°, 90° triangle the sides are x, x√3 and 2x.__

Given the hypotenuse is equal to 8 centimeters, we know that the side opposite to 30° angle is equal to 8/2=4 centimeters. The side opposite to 60° angle is equal to 4*√3=√16*√3=√48.

__Checking with Pythagorean theorem__:

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

4^{2}+√48^{2}=8^{2}

16+48=64

64=64

Consider the following example:

In a right triangle the measures of the angles are 45°, 45°, 90° and the hypotenuse is equal to √40 centimeters.

What are the lengths of the sides?

__In 45°, 45°, 90° triangle the sides are s, s and s√2.__

We are given that the hypotenuse is equal to √40 centimeters, therefore s√2=√40. Continue solving:

s√2=√40

s=√40/√2

s=√20

__Checking with Pythagorean theorem__:

a^{2}+b^{2}=c^{2}

√20^{2}+√20^{2}=√40^{2}

20+20=40

40=40

### Calculation of angle measures given side lengths in special triangles

**Given the side lengths of a special right triangle, we can calculate the angle measures.**

** **If the ratio between a side and a hypotenuse in a right triangle is 1/2 we know that the triangle is a special right triangle with 30°, 60°, 90° angles (the side used in the ratio is located opposite to the 30° angle).

If the ratio between a side and a hypotenuse in a right triangle is √3/2 we know that the triangle is a special right triangle with 30°, 60°, 90° angles (the side used in the ratio is located opposite to the 60° angle).

If the ratio between two sides in a right triangle is √3 or 1/√3 we know that the triangle is a special right triangle with 30°, 60°, 90° angles (the bigger side which is multiplied by √3 is located opposite to the 60° angle).

If a right triangle is an isosceles triangle, it is a special right triangle with angles 45°, 45° and 90°.

If the ratio between a side and a hypotenuse in a right triangle is 1/√2 we know that the triangle is a special right triangle with 45°, 45°, 90° angles.

Consider the following example:

The ratio between two sides in a right triangle is √27/9, what are the measures of the angles of the triangle?

Simplifying the ratio √27/9 gives us:

√27/9=√27/√81

√27/√81=√27/(√27*√3)

√27/(√27*√3)=1/√3

If the ratio between two sides in a right triangle is 1/√3 we know that the triangle is a special right triangle with 30°, 60°, 90° angles (the bigger side which is multiplied by √3 is located opposite to the 60° angle).