If is a differentiable function for a given , this means that we can draw a unique tangent to for that given . The slope of this unique tangent is called the derivative of for that given . The process of finding the derivative is known as differentiation.

For example, for , the derivative at any given has the value (we evaluated this by first principles in the previous chapter.) This means that the slope of the tangent drawn to at any given has the numerical value .

Equivalently stated, we can differentiate to get .

{ represents the derivative of }.

Recall that we can differentiate a function at a given point only if the and at that point have equal values. If they do, then

The notation that we use to signify the derivative of is either or

We need to understand here the significance of the notation (the derivative of with respect to the variable )

Recall that to evaluate the derivative (slope of the tangent) of at a given point, we first drew a secant passing through that point and then let that secant tend to a tangent as follows:

The slope of any secant can be written easily:

The slope is obvious from the figure:

Now, to evaluate the derivative at , we need to make the secant tend to a tangent at by letting approach or equivalently, by letting

As becomes an infinitesmally small quantity (approaches ), the corresponding will also become infinitesmally small (will approach ), but the ratio will become an increasingly accurate representation of the slope of the tangent at .

An infinitesmally small change in the value is represented by instead of .

Similarly, an infinitesmally small change in the value would be represented by instead of .

Therefore,

You should now be clear about the notation . We will use interchangeably to represent the derivative of at any given .

**Note:**From now on you should always keep in mind that (variable) represents an infinitesmally small change in the variable value while (variable) represents a finite change in the variable value