Complex Numbers

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Definition: Complex Numbers

Complex Numbers

Full Definition of Complex Numbers

Many people find complex numbers disturbing. Before delving into their mathematics, let’s consider why we might be interested in these constructs.

Complex numbers act much like a bridge between two villages that are located on opposite sides of a river. If the nearest ford is 10 miles upstream, a bridge may provide a more direct path between the two villages. In travelling between the two villages, we might take the ford or the bridge. Either way, our destination is the same.

Similarly, we may have a mathematical problem that is expressed entirely with real numbers and has a solution that depends only on real numbers. However, using complex numbers to reach that solution may provide a convenient shortcut compared to techniques that only involve real numbers. We use complex numbers to bridge the gap between the problem and its solution. Doing so does not change the solution. It merely provides a convenient means—a bridge—for obtaining the solution.

The Number i

The real numbers  contain no solution to the equation . We remedy this by extending the real numbers through the inclusion of an “imaginary” number i that satisfies

As with any number, we can add, multiply, take roots and perform other operations with this new number i. Multiplying i by 5 results in the number 5i. Adding 3 to this yields 3 + 5i. Squaring this yields 9 + 30i + 25i2.

At this point, our imaginary number may be starting to seem like a Pandora’s box. By adding it to , we have actually added many numbers, and the expressions for these numbers seem to be getting more and more complicated. What would happen now if we were to divide our number 9 + 30i + 25i2 into 23?

In fact, such concerns are unfounded. Although the addition of i to  does add many numbers to , expressions for these numbers always simplify to the form

a + bi [2]

where a and b are real. Using [1], we can simplify our number 9 + 30i + 25i2 as follows:

9 + 30i + 25i2 = 9 + 30i + 25(–1) = –16 + 30i [3]

which has the form [2].

We call the set of numbers of the form [2] the complex numbers and denote this set . Given a complex number z = a + bi, we call the real number a the real part of z. We call the real number b the imaginary part of z. This motivates the Re and Im functions that map a complex number z = a + bi to its real and imaginary parts a and b, respectively:

Re(a + bi) = a [4]
Im(a + bi) = b [5]

If a complex number’s real part a equals 0—so it has the form bi for some real b—we say the number is purely imaginary (or, more simply, imaginary).

Complex Operations

Operations on complex numbers are extensions of the familiar operations for real numbers. Indeed, we have already performed complex addition and multiplication. We now formally define the operations of complex addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and the taking of square roots. Let a + bi and c + di be complex numbers where a,b,c,d  . Then


With the exception of 0, every real or complex number has two square roots. For example, the square roots of 4 are 2 and –2. The square roots of –1 are i and –i.

In [5] through [9], the formulas reduce to the corresponding operations for real numbers if they are applied to real numbers. Also, the right side of each formula is always defined and corresponds to a complex number of the form [2]. The only exception is division by zero, which is undefined with regard to real as well as complex numbers.

Recall that we were motivated to introduce complex numbers by the equation , which has no solution in . Is it possible that there is some equation that has no solution in ? If this were the case, we might feel compelled to extend the complex numbers through the addition of still another “imaginary” number to solve this new equation. This will never happen, due to the fundamental theorem of algebra. Consider a polynomial equation of the form


where the    are constants. The theorem states that every such equation has exactly n solutions z   (including repeated solutions).

Complex Functions
We extend the exponential function to  with


This is the famous Euler’s formula that links the exponential function with the sine and cosine functions. We extend the sine and cosine functions to  with



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Definition Sources

Definitions for Complex Numbers are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 30th December, 2021 | 0 Views.