Is there a way to find out what the area under the curve represents? For eg. If i gave you a graph of $v$ with respect to $t$ would you be able to tell me what the area under the curve represents without knowing (memorising) it? Or basicly if I gave you any graph of $y$ with respect to $x$ would you know what the area under the curve represent?

If it is possible to explain how I can find out, please explain simply, I am a just a high school student.


1 Answer 1


Let's consider the graph of some function $y(x)$. I've just drawn some random curve:


We take the area under the curve as being made up of lots of little rectangles like the pink rectangle I've drawn. I've drawn the rectangle at the position $x$ on the $x$ axis so the height of the rectangle is $y(x)$. The width of this rectangle is $dx$, where by $dx$ we mean some tiny distance measured along the $x$ axis. We make $dx$ small enough that $y(x)$ can be taken as constant over the width of the rectangle. So the area of this rectangle is then just:

$$ dA = y(x)dx $$

Then the area under the whole curve is just the sum of the areas of all these tiny rectangles under the curve. Should you be interested in finding out more about this it is called Riemann integration.

Anyhow, so find out the physical significance of the area you just need to look at what $y(x)dx$ means. For example you ask about a graph where $y$ is the velocity and $x$ is the time. In that case the area of our little rectangle is:

$$ dA = v\,dt $$

And velocity $v$ times time $dt$ is just the distance moved at a velocity $v$ in a time $dt$. So the area is a distance moved. Add together all the little rectangles between two times $t_1$ and $t_2$ and we get the total distance moved between the times $t_1$ and $t_2$.

There are lots and lots of different graphs we could consider, but in all cases just think about the quantity $y\,dx$ and ask yourself what that quantity means. This will generally make it clear what the area under the graph represents.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.