Skip to Content
OpenStax Logo
College Physics

3.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods

College Physics3.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Introduction: The Nature of Science and Physics
    1. Introduction to Science and the Realm of Physics, Physical Quantities, and Units
    2. 1.1 Physics: An Introduction
    3. 1.2 Physical Quantities and Units
    4. 1.3 Accuracy, Precision, and Significant Figures
    5. 1.4 Approximation
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
  3. 2 Kinematics
    1. Introduction to One-Dimensional Kinematics
    2. 2.1 Displacement
    3. 2.2 Vectors, Scalars, and Coordinate Systems
    4. 2.3 Time, Velocity, and Speed
    5. 2.4 Acceleration
    6. 2.5 Motion Equations for Constant Acceleration in One Dimension
    7. 2.6 Problem-Solving Basics for One-Dimensional Kinematics
    8. 2.7 Falling Objects
    9. 2.8 Graphical Analysis of One-Dimensional Motion
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  4. 3 Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    1. Introduction to Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    2. 3.1 Kinematics in Two Dimensions: An Introduction
    3. 3.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
    4. 3.3 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods
    5. 3.4 Projectile Motion
    6. 3.5 Addition of Velocities
    7. Glossary
    8. Section Summary
    9. Conceptual Questions
    10. Problems & Exercises
  5. 4 Dynamics: Force and Newton's Laws of Motion
    1. Introduction to Dynamics: Newton’s Laws of Motion
    2. 4.1 Development of Force Concept
    3. 4.2 Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia
    4. 4.3 Newton’s Second Law of Motion: Concept of a System
    5. 4.4 Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Symmetry in Forces
    6. 4.5 Normal, Tension, and Other Examples of Forces
    7. 4.6 Problem-Solving Strategies
    8. 4.7 Further Applications of Newton’s Laws of Motion
    9. 4.8 Extended Topic: The Four Basic Forces—An Introduction
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  6. 5 Further Applications of Newton's Laws: Friction, Drag, and Elasticity
    1. Introduction: Further Applications of Newton’s Laws
    2. 5.1 Friction
    3. 5.2 Drag Forces
    4. 5.3 Elasticity: Stress and Strain
    5. Glossary
    6. Section Summary
    7. Conceptual Questions
    8. Problems & Exercises
  7. 6 Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation
    1. Introduction to Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation
    2. 6.1 Rotation Angle and Angular Velocity
    3. 6.2 Centripetal Acceleration
    4. 6.3 Centripetal Force
    5. 6.4 Fictitious Forces and Non-inertial Frames: The Coriolis Force
    6. 6.5 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    7. 6.6 Satellites and Kepler’s Laws: An Argument for Simplicity
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  8. 7 Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
    1. Introduction to Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
    2. 7.1 Work: The Scientific Definition
    3. 7.2 Kinetic Energy and the Work-Energy Theorem
    4. 7.3 Gravitational Potential Energy
    5. 7.4 Conservative Forces and Potential Energy
    6. 7.5 Nonconservative Forces
    7. 7.6 Conservation of Energy
    8. 7.7 Power
    9. 7.8 Work, Energy, and Power in Humans
    10. 7.9 World Energy Use
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  9. 8 Linear Momentum and Collisions
    1. Introduction to Linear Momentum and Collisions
    2. 8.1 Linear Momentum and Force
    3. 8.2 Impulse
    4. 8.3 Conservation of Momentum
    5. 8.4 Elastic Collisions in One Dimension
    6. 8.5 Inelastic Collisions in One Dimension
    7. 8.6 Collisions of Point Masses in Two Dimensions
    8. 8.7 Introduction to Rocket Propulsion
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  10. 9 Statics and Torque
    1. Introduction to Statics and Torque
    2. 9.1 The First Condition for Equilibrium
    3. 9.2 The Second Condition for Equilibrium
    4. 9.3 Stability
    5. 9.4 Applications of Statics, Including Problem-Solving Strategies
    6. 9.5 Simple Machines
    7. 9.6 Forces and Torques in Muscles and Joints
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  11. 10 Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
    1. Introduction to Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
    2. 10.1 Angular Acceleration
    3. 10.2 Kinematics of Rotational Motion
    4. 10.3 Dynamics of Rotational Motion: Rotational Inertia
    5. 10.4 Rotational Kinetic Energy: Work and Energy Revisited
    6. 10.5 Angular Momentum and Its Conservation
    7. 10.6 Collisions of Extended Bodies in Two Dimensions
    8. 10.7 Gyroscopic Effects: Vector Aspects of Angular Momentum
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  12. 11 Fluid Statics
    1. Introduction to Fluid Statics
    2. 11.1 What Is a Fluid?
    3. 11.2 Density
    4. 11.3 Pressure
    5. 11.4 Variation of Pressure with Depth in a Fluid
    6. 11.5 Pascal’s Principle
    7. 11.6 Gauge Pressure, Absolute Pressure, and Pressure Measurement
    8. 11.7 Archimedes’ Principle
    9. 11.8 Cohesion and Adhesion in Liquids: Surface Tension and Capillary Action
    10. 11.9 Pressures in the Body
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  13. 12 Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
    1. Introduction to Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
    2. 12.1 Flow Rate and Its Relation to Velocity
    3. 12.2 Bernoulli’s Equation
    4. 12.3 The Most General Applications of Bernoulli’s Equation
    5. 12.4 Viscosity and Laminar Flow; Poiseuille’s Law
    6. 12.5 The Onset of Turbulence
    7. 12.6 Motion of an Object in a Viscous Fluid
    8. 12.7 Molecular Transport Phenomena: Diffusion, Osmosis, and Related Processes
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  14. 13 Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
    1. Introduction to Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
    2. 13.1 Temperature
    3. 13.2 Thermal Expansion of Solids and Liquids
    4. 13.3 The Ideal Gas Law
    5. 13.4 Kinetic Theory: Atomic and Molecular Explanation of Pressure and Temperature
    6. 13.5 Phase Changes
    7. 13.6 Humidity, Evaporation, and Boiling
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  15. 14 Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
    1. Introduction to Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
    2. 14.1 Heat
    3. 14.2 Temperature Change and Heat Capacity
    4. 14.3 Phase Change and Latent Heat
    5. 14.4 Heat Transfer Methods
    6. 14.5 Conduction
    7. 14.6 Convection
    8. 14.7 Radiation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  16. 15 Thermodynamics
    1. Introduction to Thermodynamics
    2. 15.1 The First Law of Thermodynamics
    3. 15.2 The First Law of Thermodynamics and Some Simple Processes
    4. 15.3 Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency
    5. 15.4 Carnot’s Perfect Heat Engine: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Restated
    6. 15.5 Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Pumps and Refrigerators
    7. 15.6 Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and the Unavailability of Energy
    8. 15.7 Statistical Interpretation of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Underlying Explanation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  17. 16 Oscillatory Motion and Waves
    1. Introduction to Oscillatory Motion and Waves
    2. 16.1 Hooke’s Law: Stress and Strain Revisited
    3. 16.2 Period and Frequency in Oscillations
    4. 16.3 Simple Harmonic Motion: A Special Periodic Motion
    5. 16.4 The Simple Pendulum
    6. 16.5 Energy and the Simple Harmonic Oscillator
    7. 16.6 Uniform Circular Motion and Simple Harmonic Motion
    8. 16.7 Damped Harmonic Motion
    9. 16.8 Forced Oscillations and Resonance
    10. 16.9 Waves
    11. 16.10 Superposition and Interference
    12. 16.11 Energy in Waves: Intensity
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
  18. 17 Physics of Hearing
    1. Introduction to the Physics of Hearing
    2. 17.1 Sound
    3. 17.2 Speed of Sound, Frequency, and Wavelength
    4. 17.3 Sound Intensity and Sound Level
    5. 17.4 Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
    6. 17.5 Sound Interference and Resonance: Standing Waves in Air Columns
    7. 17.6 Hearing
    8. 17.7 Ultrasound
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  19. 18 Electric Charge and Electric Field
    1. Introduction to Electric Charge and Electric Field
    2. 18.1 Static Electricity and Charge: Conservation of Charge
    3. 18.2 Conductors and Insulators
    4. 18.3 Coulomb’s Law
    5. 18.4 Electric Field: Concept of a Field Revisited
    6. 18.5 Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges
    7. 18.6 Electric Forces in Biology
    8. 18.7 Conductors and Electric Fields in Static Equilibrium
    9. 18.8 Applications of Electrostatics
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  20. 19 Electric Potential and Electric Field
    1. Introduction to Electric Potential and Electric Energy
    2. 19.1 Electric Potential Energy: Potential Difference
    3. 19.2 Electric Potential in a Uniform Electric Field
    4. 19.3 Electrical Potential Due to a Point Charge
    5. 19.4 Equipotential Lines
    6. 19.5 Capacitors and Dielectrics
    7. 19.6 Capacitors in Series and Parallel
    8. 19.7 Energy Stored in Capacitors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  21. 20 Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
    1. Introduction to Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
    2. 20.1 Current
    3. 20.2 Ohm’s Law: Resistance and Simple Circuits
    4. 20.3 Resistance and Resistivity
    5. 20.4 Electric Power and Energy
    6. 20.5 Alternating Current versus Direct Current
    7. 20.6 Electric Hazards and the Human Body
    8. 20.7 Nerve Conduction–Electrocardiograms
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  22. 21 Circuits and DC Instruments
    1. Introduction to Circuits and DC Instruments
    2. 21.1 Resistors in Series and Parallel
    3. 21.2 Electromotive Force: Terminal Voltage
    4. 21.3 Kirchhoff’s Rules
    5. 21.4 DC Voltmeters and Ammeters
    6. 21.5 Null Measurements
    7. 21.6 DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  23. 22 Magnetism
    1. Introduction to Magnetism
    2. 22.1 Magnets
    3. 22.2 Ferromagnets and Electromagnets
    4. 22.3 Magnetic Fields and Magnetic Field Lines
    5. 22.4 Magnetic Field Strength: Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field
    6. 22.5 Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field: Examples and Applications
    7. 22.6 The Hall Effect
    8. 22.7 Magnetic Force on a Current-Carrying Conductor
    9. 22.8 Torque on a Current Loop: Motors and Meters
    10. 22.9 Magnetic Fields Produced by Currents: Ampere’s Law
    11. 22.10 Magnetic Force between Two Parallel Conductors
    12. 22.11 More Applications of Magnetism
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
  24. 23 Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits, and Electrical Technologies
    1. Introduction to Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits and Electrical Technologies
    2. 23.1 Induced Emf and Magnetic Flux
    3. 23.2 Faraday’s Law of Induction: Lenz’s Law
    4. 23.3 Motional Emf
    5. 23.4 Eddy Currents and Magnetic Damping
    6. 23.5 Electric Generators
    7. 23.6 Back Emf
    8. 23.7 Transformers
    9. 23.8 Electrical Safety: Systems and Devices
    10. 23.9 Inductance
    11. 23.10 RL Circuits
    12. 23.11 Reactance, Inductive and Capacitive
    13. 23.12 RLC Series AC Circuits
    14. Glossary
    15. Section Summary
    16. Conceptual Questions
    17. Problems & Exercises
  25. 24 Electromagnetic Waves
    1. Introduction to Electromagnetic Waves
    2. 24.1 Maxwell’s Equations: Electromagnetic Waves Predicted and Observed
    3. 24.2 Production of Electromagnetic Waves
    4. 24.3 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 24.4 Energy in Electromagnetic Waves
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
  26. 25 Geometric Optics
    1. Introduction to Geometric Optics
    2. 25.1 The Ray Aspect of Light
    3. 25.2 The Law of Reflection
    4. 25.3 The Law of Refraction
    5. 25.4 Total Internal Reflection
    6. 25.5 Dispersion: The Rainbow and Prisms
    7. 25.6 Image Formation by Lenses
    8. 25.7 Image Formation by Mirrors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  27. 26 Vision and Optical Instruments
    1. Introduction to Vision and Optical Instruments
    2. 26.1 Physics of the Eye
    3. 26.2 Vision Correction
    4. 26.3 Color and Color Vision
    5. 26.4 Microscopes
    6. 26.5 Telescopes
    7. 26.6 Aberrations
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  28. 27 Wave Optics
    1. Introduction to Wave Optics
    2. 27.1 The Wave Aspect of Light: Interference
    3. 27.2 Huygens's Principle: Diffraction
    4. 27.3 Young’s Double Slit Experiment
    5. 27.4 Multiple Slit Diffraction
    6. 27.5 Single Slit Diffraction
    7. 27.6 Limits of Resolution: The Rayleigh Criterion
    8. 27.7 Thin Film Interference
    9. 27.8 Polarization
    10. 27.9 *Extended Topic* Microscopy Enhanced by the Wave Characteristics of Light
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  29. 28 Special Relativity
    1. Introduction to Special Relativity
    2. 28.1 Einstein’s Postulates
    3. 28.2 Simultaneity And Time Dilation
    4. 28.3 Length Contraction
    5. 28.4 Relativistic Addition of Velocities
    6. 28.5 Relativistic Momentum
    7. 28.6 Relativistic Energy
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  30. 29 Introduction to Quantum Physics
    1. Introduction to Quantum Physics
    2. 29.1 Quantization of Energy
    3. 29.2 The Photoelectric Effect
    4. 29.3 Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 29.4 Photon Momentum
    6. 29.5 The Particle-Wave Duality
    7. 29.6 The Wave Nature of Matter
    8. 29.7 Probability: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
    9. 29.8 The Particle-Wave Duality Reviewed
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  31. 30 Atomic Physics
    1. Introduction to Atomic Physics
    2. 30.1 Discovery of the Atom
    3. 30.2 Discovery of the Parts of the Atom: Electrons and Nuclei
    4. 30.3 Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom
    5. 30.4 X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications
    6. 30.5 Applications of Atomic Excitations and De-Excitations
    7. 30.6 The Wave Nature of Matter Causes Quantization
    8. 30.7 Patterns in Spectra Reveal More Quantization
    9. 30.8 Quantum Numbers and Rules
    10. 30.9 The Pauli Exclusion Principle
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  32. 31 Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
    1. Introduction to Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
    2. 31.1 Nuclear Radioactivity
    3. 31.2 Radiation Detection and Detectors
    4. 31.3 Substructure of the Nucleus
    5. 31.4 Nuclear Decay and Conservation Laws
    6. 31.5 Half-Life and Activity
    7. 31.6 Binding Energy
    8. 31.7 Tunneling
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  33. 32 Medical Applications of Nuclear Physics
    1. Introduction to Applications of Nuclear Physics
    2. 32.1 Medical Imaging and Diagnostics
    3. 32.2 Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation
    4. 32.3 Therapeutic Uses of Ionizing Radiation
    5. 32.4 Food Irradiation
    6. 32.5 Fusion
    7. 32.6 Fission
    8. 32.7 Nuclear Weapons
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  34. 33 Particle Physics
    1. Introduction to Particle Physics
    2. 33.1 The Yukawa Particle and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Revisited
    3. 33.2 The Four Basic Forces
    4. 33.3 Accelerators Create Matter from Energy
    5. 33.4 Particles, Patterns, and Conservation Laws
    6. 33.5 Quarks: Is That All There Is?
    7. 33.6 GUTs: The Unification of Forces
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  35. 34 Frontiers of Physics
    1. Introduction to Frontiers of Physics
    2. 34.1 Cosmology and Particle Physics
    3. 34.2 General Relativity and Quantum Gravity
    4. 34.3 Superstrings
    5. 34.4 Dark Matter and Closure
    6. 34.5 Complexity and Chaos
    7. 34.6 High-temperature Superconductors
    8. 34.7 Some Questions We Know to Ask
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  36. A | Atomic Masses
  37. B | Selected Radioactive Isotopes
  38. C | Useful Information
  39. D | Glossary of Key Symbols and Notation
  40. Index
Some Hawaiian Islands like Kauai Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, Kahoolawe, and Hawaii are shown. On the scale map of Hawaiian Islands the path of a journey is shown moving from Hawaii to Molokai. The path of the journey is turning at different angles and finally reaching its destination. The displacement of the journey is shown with the help of a straight line connecting its starting point and the destination.
Figure 3.8 Displacement can be determined graphically using a scale map, such as this one of the Hawaiian Islands. A journey from Hawai’i to Moloka’i has a number of legs, or journey segments. These segments can be added graphically with a ruler to determine the total two-dimensional displacement of the journey. (credit: US Geological Survey)

Vectors in Two Dimensions

A vector is a quantity that has magnitude and direction. Displacement, velocity, acceleration, and force, for example, are all vectors. In one-dimensional, or straight-line, motion, the direction of a vector can be given simply by a plus or minus sign. In two dimensions (2-d), however, we specify the direction of a vector relative to some reference frame (i.e., coordinate system), using an arrow having length proportional to the vector’s magnitude and pointing in the direction of the vector.

Figure 3.9 shows such a graphical representation of a vector, using as an example the total displacement for the person walking in a city considered in Kinematics in Two Dimensions: An Introduction. We shall use the notation that a boldface symbol, such as DD size 12{D} {}, stands for a vector. Its magnitude is represented by the symbol in italics, DD size 12{D} {}, and its direction by θθ size 12{θ} {}.

Vectors in this Text

In this text, we will represent a vector with a boldface variable. For example, we will represent the quantity force with the vector FF size 12{F} {}, which has both magnitude and direction. The magnitude of the vector will be represented by a variable in italics, such as FF size 12{F} {}, and the direction of the variable will be given by an angle θθ size 12{θ} {}.

A graph is shown. On the axes the scale is set to one block is equal to one unit. A helicopter starts moving from the origin at an angle of twenty nine point one degrees above the x axis. The current position of the helicopter is ten point three blocks along its line of motion. The destination of the helicopter is the point which is nine blocks in the positive x direction and five blocks in the positive y direction. The positive direction of the x axis is east and the positive direction of the y axis is north.
Figure 3.9 A person walks 9 blocks east and 5 blocks north. The displacement is 10.3 blocks at an angle 29.1º29.1º size 12{"29" "." "1º"} {} north of east.
On a graph a vector is shown. It is inclined at an angle theta equal to twenty nine point one degrees above the positive x axis. A protractor is shown to the right of the x axis to measure the angle. A ruler is also shown parallel to the vector to measure its length. The ruler shows that the length of the vector is ten point three units.
Figure 3.10 To describe the resultant vector for the person walking in a city considered in Figure 3.9 graphically, draw an arrow to represent the total displacement vector DD size 12{D} {}. Using a protractor, draw a line at an angle θθ size 12{θ} {} relative to the east-west axis. The length DD size 12{D} {} of the arrow is proportional to the vector’s magnitude and is measured along the line with a ruler. In this example, the magnitude DD size 12{D} {} of the vector is 10.3 units, and the direction θθ size 12{θ} {} is 29.1º29.1º size 12{"29" "." 1 rSup { size 12{º} } } {} north of east.

Vector Addition: Head-to-Tail Method

The head-to-tail method is a graphical way to add vectors, described in Figure 3.11 below and in the steps following. The tail of the vector is the starting point of the vector, and the head (or tip) of a vector is the final, pointed end of the arrow.

In part a, a vector of magnitude of nine units and making an angle of theta is equal to zero degrees is drawn from the origin and along the positive direction of x axis. In part b a vector of magnitude of nine units and making an angle of theta is equal to zero degree is drawn from the origin and along the positive direction of x axis. Then a vertical arrow from the head of the horizontal arrow is drawn. In part c a vector D of magnitude ten point three is drawn from the tail of the horizontal vector at an angle theta is equal to twenty nine point one degrees from the positive direction of x axis. The head of the vector D meets the head of the vertical vector. A scale is shown parallel to the vector D to measure its length. Also a protractor is shown to measure the inclination of the vectorD.
Figure 3.11 Head-to-Tail Method: The head-to-tail method of graphically adding vectors is illustrated for the two displacements of the person walking in a city considered in Figure 3.9. (a) Draw a vector representing the displacement to the east. (b) Draw a vector representing the displacement to the north. The tail of this vector should originate from the head of the first, east-pointing vector. (c) Draw a line from the tail of the east-pointing vector to the head of the north-pointing vector to form the sum or resultant vector DD size 12{A} {}. The length of the arrow DD size 12{A} {} is proportional to the vector’s magnitude and is measured to be 10.3 units . Its direction, described as the angle with respect to the east (or horizontal axis) θθ size 12{θ} {} is measured with a protractor to be 29 . 29 . size 12{"29" "." 1°} {} .

Step 1. Draw an arrow to represent the first vector (9 blocks to the east) using a ruler and protractor.

In part a, a vector of magnitude of nine units and making an angle theta is equal to zero degree is drawn from the origin and along the positive direction of x axis.
Figure 3.12

Step 2. Now draw an arrow to represent the second vector (5 blocks to the north). Place the tail of the second vector at the head of the first vector.

In part b, a vector of magnitude of nine units and making an angle theta is equal to zero degree is drawn from the origin and along the positive direction of x axis. Then a vertical vector from the head of the horizontal vector is drawn.
Figure 3.13

Step 3. If there are more than two vectors, continue this process for each vector to be added. Note that in our example, we have only two vectors, so we have finished placing arrows tip to tail.

Step 4. Draw an arrow from the tail of the first vector to the head of the last vector. This is the resultant, or the sum, of the other vectors.

In part c, a vector D of magnitude ten point three is drawn from the tail of the horizontal vector at an angle theta is equal to twenty nine point one degrees from the positive direction of the x axis. The head of the vector D meets the head of the vertical vector. A scale is shown parallel to the vector D to measure its length. Also a protractor is shown to measure the inclination of the vector D.
Figure 3.14

Step 5. To get the magnitude of the resultant, measure its length with a ruler. (Note that in most calculations, we will use the Pythagorean theorem to determine this length.)

Step 6. To get the direction of the resultant, measure the angle it makes with the reference frame using a protractor. (Note that in most calculations, we will use trigonometric relationships to determine this angle.)

The graphical addition of vectors is limited in accuracy only by the precision with which the drawings can be made and the precision of the measuring tools. It is valid for any number of vectors.

Example 3.1 Adding Vectors Graphically Using the Head-to-Tail Method: A Woman Takes a Walk

Use the graphical technique for adding vectors to find the total displacement of a person who walks the following three paths (displacements) on a flat field. First, she walks 25.0 m in a direction 49.0º49.0º size 12{"49" "." "0º"} {} north of east. Then, she walks 23.0 m heading 15.0º15.0º size 12{"15" "." "º°"} {} north of east. Finally, she turns and walks 32.0 m in a direction 68.0° south of east.

Strategy

Represent each displacement vector graphically with an arrow, labeling the first AA size 12{A} {}, the second BB size 12{B} {}, and the third CC size 12{C} {}, making the lengths proportional to the distance and the directions as specified relative to an east-west line. The head-to-tail method outlined above will give a way to determine the magnitude and direction of the resultant displacement, denoted RR size 12{R} {}.

Solution

(1) Draw the three displacement vectors.

On the graph a vector of magnitude twenty three meters and inclined above the x axis at an angle theta-b equal to fifteen degrees is shown. This vector is labeled as B.
Figure 3.15

(2) Place the vectors head to tail retaining both their initial magnitude and direction.

In this figure a vector A with a positive slope is drawn from the origin. Then from the head of the vector A another vector B with positive slope is drawn and then another vector C with negative slope from the head of the vector B is drawn which cuts the x axis.
Figure 3.16

(3) Draw the resultant vector, RR size 12{R} {}.

In this figure a vector A with a positive slope is drawn from the origin. Then from the head of the vector A another vector B with positive slope is drawn and then another vector C with negative slope from the head of the vector B is drawn which cuts the x axis. From the tail of the vector A a vector R of magnitude of fifty point zero meters and with negative slope of seven degrees is drawn. The head of this vector R meets the head of the vector C. The vector R is known as the resultant vector.
Figure 3.17

(4) Use a ruler to measure the magnitude of RR size 12{R} {}, and a protractor to measure the direction of RR size 12{R} {}. While the direction of the vector can be specified in many ways, the easiest way is to measure the angle between the vector and the nearest horizontal or vertical axis. Since the resultant vector is south of the eastward pointing axis, we flip the protractor upside down and measure the angle between the eastward axis and the vector.

In this figure a vector A with a positive slope is drawn from the origin. Then from the head of the vector A another vector B with positive slope is drawn and then another vector C with negative slope from the head of the vector B is drawn which cuts the x axis. From the tail of the vector A a vector R of magnitude of fifty meter and with negative slope of seven degrees is drawn. The head of this vector R meets the head of the vector C. The vector R is known as the resultant vector. A ruler is placed along the vector R to measure it. Also there is a protractor to measure the angle.
Figure 3.18

In this case, the total displacement RR size 12{R} {} is seen to have a magnitude of 50.0 m and to lie in a direction 7.0º7.0º size 12{7 "." 0°} {} south of east. By using its magnitude and direction, this vector can be expressed as R = 50.0 m R = 50.0 m size 12{R" = 50" "." "0 m"} {} and θ=7.θ=7. size 12{θ=7 "." "0°"} {} south of east.

Discussion

The head-to-tail graphical method of vector addition works for any number of vectors. It is also important to note that the resultant is independent of the order in which the vectors are added. Therefore, we could add the vectors in any order as illustrated in Figure 3.19 and we will still get the same solution.

In this figure a vector C with a negative slope is drawn from the origin. Then from the head of the vector C another vector A with positive slope is drawn and then another vector B with negative slope from the head of the vector A is drawn. From the tail of the vector C a vector R of magnitude of fifty point zero meters and with negative slope of seven degrees is drawn. The head of this vector R meets the head of the vector B. The vector R is known as the resultant vector.
Figure 3.19

Here, we see that when the same vectors are added in a different order, the result is the same. This characteristic is true in every case and is an important characteristic of vectors. Vector addition is commutative. Vectors can be added in any order.

A+B=B+A.A+B=B+A. size 12{"A+B=B+A"} {}
3.1

(This is true for the addition of ordinary numbers as well—you get the same result whether you add 2+32+3 size 12{"2+3"} {} or 3+23+2 size 12{"3+2"} {}, for example).

Vector Subtraction

Vector subtraction is a straightforward extension of vector addition. To define subtraction (say we want to subtract BB size 12{B} {} from AA size 12{A} {} , written A BA B size 12{ "A" "-B"} {} , we must first define what we mean by subtraction. The negative of a vector BB is defined to be –B–B; that is, graphically the negative of any vector has the same magnitude but the opposite direction, as shown in Figure 3.20. In other words, BB size 12{B} {} has the same length as –B–B size 12{"-" "B"} {}, but points in the opposite direction. Essentially, we just flip the vector so it points in the opposite direction.

Two vectors are shown. One of the vectors is labeled as vector   in north east direction. The other vector is of the same magnitude and is in the opposite direction to that of vector B. This vector is denoted as negative B.
Figure 3.20 The negative of a vector is just another vector of the same magnitude but pointing in the opposite direction. So BB size 12{B} {} is the negative of –B–B size 12{ ital "-B"} {}; it has the same length but opposite direction.

The subtraction of vector BB from vector AA is then simply defined to be the addition of –B–B to AA. Note that vector subtraction is the addition of a negative vector. The order of subtraction does not affect the results.

A – B = A + (–B).A – B = A + (–B). size 12{ bold "A – B = A + " \( bold "–B" \) } {}
3.2

This is analogous to the subtraction of scalars (where, for example, 5 – 2 = 5 + (–2)5 – 2 = 5 + (–2) size 12{"5 – 2 = 5 + " \( "–2" \) } {}). Again, the result is independent of the order in which the subtraction is made. When vectors are subtracted graphically, the techniques outlined above are used, as the following example illustrates.

Example 3.2 Subtracting Vectors Graphically: A Woman Sailing a Boat

A woman sailing a boat at night is following directions to a dock. The instructions read to first sail 27.5 m in a direction 66.0º66.0º size 12{"66" "." 0º} {} north of east from her current location, and then travel 30.0 m in a direction 112º112º size 12{"112"º} {} north of east (or 22.0º22.0º size 12{"22" "." 0º} {} west of north). If the woman makes a mistake and travels in the opposite direction for the second leg of the trip, where will she end up? Compare this location with the location of the dock.

A vector of magnitude twenty seven point five meters is shown. It is inclined to the horizontal at an angle of sixty six degrees. Another vector of magnitude thirty point zero meters is shown. It is inclined to the horizontal at an angle of one hundred and twelve degrees.
Figure 3.21

Strategy

We can represent the first leg of the trip with a vector AA, and the second leg of the trip with a vector BB size 12{B} {}. The dock is located at a location A + BA + B. If the woman mistakenly travels in the opposite direction for the second leg of the journey, she will travel a distance BB (30.0 m) in the direction 180º112º=68º180º112º=68º south of east. We represent this as –B–B, as shown below. The vector –B–B has the same magnitude as BB but is in the opposite direction. Thus, she will end up at a location A+(–B)A+(–B), or ABAB.

A vector labeled negative B is inclined at an angle of sixty-eight degrees below a horizontal line. A dotted line in the reverse direction inclined at one hundred and twelve degrees above the horizontal line is also shown.
Figure 3.22

We will perform vector addition to compare the location of the dock, BB size 12{ ital "A ""+ "B} {}, with the location at which the woman mistakenly arrives, A + (–B)A + (–B) size 12{ bold "A + " \( bold "–B" \) } {}.

Solution

(1) To determine the location at which the woman arrives by accident, draw vectors AA size 12{A} {} and –B–B.

(2) Place the vectors head to tail.

(3) Draw the resultant vector RR size 12{R} {}.

(4) Use a ruler and protractor to measure the magnitude and direction of RR size 12{R} {}.

Vectors A and negative B are connected in head to tail method. Vector A is inclined with horizontal with positive slope and vector negative B with a negative slope. The resultant of these two vectors is shown as a vector R from tail of A to the head of negative B. The length of the resultant is twenty three point zero meters and has a negative slope of seven point five degrees.
Figure 3.23

In this case, R = 23 . 0 m R = 23 . 0 m size 12{R"=23" "." "0 m"} {} and θ = 7 . θ = 7 . size 12{θ=7 "." "5° south of east"} {} south of east.

(5) To determine the location of the dock, we repeat this method to add vectors AA size 12{A} {} and BB size 12{B} {}. We obtain the resultant vector R'R' size 12{R'} {}:

A vector A inclined at sixty six degrees with horizontal is shown. From the head of this vector another vector B is started. Vector B is inclined at one hundred and twelve degrees with the horizontal. Another vector labeled as R prime from the tail of vector A to the head of vector B is drawn. The length of this vector is fifty two point nine meters and its inclination with the horizontal is shown as ninety point one degrees. Vector R prime is equal to the sum of vectors A and B.
Figure 3.24

In this case R  = 52.9 m R  = 52.9 m size 12{R" = 52" "." "9 m"} {} and θ = 90.1º θ = 90.1º size 12{θ="90" "." "1° north of east "} {}  north of east.

We can see that the woman will end up a significant distance from the dock if she travels in the opposite direction for the second leg of the trip.

Discussion

Because subtraction of a vector is the same as addition of a vector with the opposite direction, the graphical method of subtracting vectors works the same as for addition.

Multiplication of Vectors and Scalars

If we decided to walk three times as far on the first leg of the trip considered in the preceding example, then we would walk × 27.5 m× 27.5 m size 12{"3 " times " 27" "." "5 m"} {}, or 82.5 m, in a direction 66.0º66.0º size 12{"66" "." 0 { size 12{º} } } {} north of east. This is an example of multiplying a vector by a positive scalar. Notice that the magnitude changes, but the direction stays the same.

If the scalar is negative, then multiplying a vector by it changes the vector’s magnitude and gives the new vector the opposite direction. For example, if you multiply by –2, the magnitude doubles but the direction changes. We can summarize these rules in the following way: When vector AA size 12{A} {} is multiplied by a scalar cc size 12{c} {},

  • the magnitude of the vector becomes the absolute value of cc size 12{c} {}AA size 12{A} {},
  • if cc size 12{A} {} is positive, the direction of the vector does not change,
  • if cc size 12{A} {} is negative, the direction is reversed.

In our case, c=3c=3size 12{c=3} and A=27.5 mA=27.5 msize 12{"A= 27.5 m"}. Vectors are multiplied by scalars in many situations. Note that division is the inverse of multiplication. For example, dividing by 2 is the same as multiplying by the value (1/2). The rules for multiplication of vectors by scalars are the same for division; simply treat the divisor as a scalar between 0 and 1.

Resolving a Vector into Components

In the examples above, we have been adding vectors to determine the resultant vector. In many cases, however, we will need to do the opposite. We will need to take a single vector and find what other vectors added together produce it. In most cases, this involves determining the perpendicular components of a single vector, for example the x- and y-components, or the north-south and east-west components.

For example, we may know that the total displacement of a person walking in a city is 10.3 blocks in a direction 29.0º29.0º size 12{"29" "." 0º} } {} north of east and want to find out how many blocks east and north had to be walked. This method is called finding the components (or parts) of the displacement in the east and north directions, and it is the inverse of the process followed to find the total displacement. It is one example of finding the components of a vector. There are many applications in physics where this is a useful thing to do. We will see this soon in Projectile Motion, and much more when we cover forces in Dynamics: Newton’s Laws of Motion. Most of these involve finding components along perpendicular axes (such as north and east), so that right triangles are involved. The analytical techniques presented in Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods are ideal for finding vector components.

PhET Explorations: Maze Game

Learn about position, velocity, and acceleration in the "Arena of Pain". Use the green arrow to move the ball. Add more walls to the arena to make the game more difficult. Try to make a goal as fast as you can.

Figure 3.25
Citation/Attribution

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book is Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information Citation information

© Jun 21, 2012 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.