# In Calculus, how can a function have several different, yet equal, derivatives?

I've been pondering this question all night as I work through some problems, and after a very thorough search, I haven't found anything completely related to my question. I guess i'm also curious how some derivatives are simplified as well, because in some cases I just can't see the breakdown. Here is an example:

$f(x) = \dfrac{x^2-6x+12}{x-4}$ is the function I was differentiating. Here is what I got:

$f '(x) = \dfrac{x^2-8x+12}{(x-4)^2}$ which checks using desmos graphing utility.

Now, when I checked my textbook(and Symbolab) they got:

$f '(x) = 1 - \dfrac{4}{(x-4)^2}$ which also checks on desmos.

To me, these derivatives look nothing alike, so how can they both be the equal to the derivative of the original function? Both methods used the quotient rule, yet yield very different results. Is one of these "better" than the other? I know that it is easier to find critical numbers with a more simplified derivative, but IMO the derivative I found seems easier to set equal to zero than the derivative found in my book.I also wasn't able to figure out how the second derivative was simplified, so I stuck with mine.

I'm obviously new to Calculus and i'm trying to understand the nuances of derivatives. When I ask most math people, including some professors, they just say "that's how derivatives are" but for me, that's not an acceptable answer. If someone can help me understand this, I would appreciate it.

• You really really need to use parentheses in what you write. You mean to write $(x^2-8x+12)/(x-4)^2$. The point is that your two "different" answers are exactly the same because of algebra. – Ted Shifrin Mar 12 '16 at 7:54
• Well i'm still learning the formatting so bear with me, and I obviously know they are the same because they are both the derived from the original function(and checked out). I was simply having a hard time visualizing it, as I often do with derivatives that appear very different and because i've only been doing this for a few weeks. Anyways, thanks for the comment, I guess. – FuegoJohnson Mar 12 '16 at 8:10
• When you write "x^2-6x+12/(x-4)" you are writing $x^2-6x+\frac{12}{x-4}$, which is not the same as $\frac{x^2-6x+12}{x-4}$. – alex.jordan Mar 12 '16 at 8:12
• @Hirak: Your edit is incorrect. – Ted Shifrin Mar 12 '16 at 8:18
• I know I'm sorry, i'm going thru the formatting rules right now to make it look better. Sincerest apologies. – FuegoJohnson Mar 12 '16 at 8:18

Sometimes when dealing with the derivative of a quotient of polynomials, it is more easy to do some calculations first and then start the derivatives.

In this case, when we do the division of polynomials $\dfrac{x^2-6x+12}{x-4}$ we obtain quotient $x-2$ and residue $4$ (I prefer not to write the division here because depending on how your learn it in school there might be slightly different methods)

So, we get $$x^2-6x+12=(x-2)(x-4)+4$$ and dividing both sides by $(x-4)$ we obtain $$f(x)=\dfrac{x^2-6x+12}{x-4}=(x-2)+\dfrac{4}{x-4}$$

It is somewhat easier to calculate the derivative of this new expression, because when we apply the rule for the quotient one of the derivatives is zero.

When you take the derivative of the second expression you get

$$f'(x)=1+\dfrac{0\cdot (x-4)-4(1)}{(x-4)^2}=1-\dfrac{4}{(x-4)^2}$$ which is simpler and especially useful when you will calculate second derivatives and, for example, find the graph of the function.

• Thank you for your helpful input! You broke it down in a way that I wasn't able to visualize, and now I see. I ended up finding the second derivative through a much more tedious method, so I think your way would definitely be easier. Thanks :) – FuegoJohnson Mar 12 '16 at 20:17

They are the same. One way to prove that is the following: $$1-\frac4{(x-4)^2}=\frac{(x-4)^2-4}{(x-4)^2}\\=\frac{x^2-8x+16-4}{(x-4)^2}\\=\frac{x^2-8x+12}{(x-4)^2}$$

• Thats really easy to visualize the way you broke it down, thanks. My book skips so many steps sometimes. So my next question for you, is one form "better" than the other? I had a really hard time understanding how they simplified the function in my book but seeing you compare them makes a little more sense to me. – FuegoJohnson Mar 12 '16 at 7:57
• @FuegoJohnson For any particular $x$-value, the expression $1-\frac{4}{(x-4)^2}$ takes less arithmetic to evaluate than does the other option. That is one reason to prefer it. Another reason is that it would be more efficient to continue taking higher order derivatives of $1-\frac{4}{(x-4)^2}$, since no quotient rule would be needed. – alex.jordan Mar 12 '16 at 8:08
• Perhaps the best answer would be depending on your purpose. I suppose the $1-\frac{4}{(x-4)^2}$ form would be easier to set to zero for me, but if you prefer the other method it is fine. I suppose the best answer is that the 'best' derivative would be the one which, setting for zero, you can isolate for x the fastest on a test haha. Aside from that, there is no real 'best' derivative. – Keith Afas Mar 12 '16 at 8:09
• Great input, thanks folks. I am about to take the second derivative of the function, so it makes sense that the book answer would be easier to work with, although I STILL don't understand how they simplified it the way they did in the book from the original function. My algebra is kinda rusty at the moment. If someone wants to break it down for me step by step, that would be great lol. – FuegoJohnson Mar 12 '16 at 8:17