I'm currently studying angles and their measures and I've just been told that $\pi$ is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, so:

$\pi =\dfrac {C}{d}$

$\pi =\dfrac {C}{2r}$

$ 2\pi =\dfrac {C}{r}$

So essentially what this is saying is that for every circle the ratio of its circumference to its radius is always $2\pi$.

However the textbook then goes onto introduce the radian measure, it says (paraphrasing) that suppose we now take a portion of the circle instead of the entire circumference 'C' and compare that to the radius, this portion of the circumference is some arc length 's', and the angle subtended by it is $\theta $, using "proportionality arguments" it stands to reason that $\dfrac {s}{r}$ should be constant among all circles and that this ratio '$\dfrac {s}{r}$' defines the radian measure.

My Question is:

(1) How was the relationship $\theta =\dfrac {s}{r}$ derived? How do we go from a formula: $ 2\pi =\dfrac {C}{r}$ that is a ratio of the circumference to the radius, to then come to be defined in terms of theta: $\theta =\dfrac {s}{r}$ (which gives the ratio of the length of an arc to the radius). I think what im asking how is the radian measure defined and what is the reasoning behind it?

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Edit: clarification



Since $C=2\pi r$, if you double $r$, you double $C$ and you also double "a third of $C$", etc. This works with not just doubling, but whatever scaling you need to get from one circle to another. $C/r$ is always $2\pi$, for any circle, so $(1/3)C/r$ is always $2\pi/3$, etc. Therefore, if you have an arc of length $s$ that's a certain ratio of the whole circumference (like 1/3), then $s/r$ is the same for all circles (in this case it's $2\pi/3$).


An angle from the center of the circle always covers a ratio of the whole circle that doesn't change, so if you care about angles, you care about fractions of the circumference. To see this, it might help to look at a picture like: radian measure

(Picture taken from http://ck022.k12.sd.us/)

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer, it cleared up a few things, what I'm having really difficulty understanding is how the formula $\theta =\dfrac {s}{r}$ is derived, as the original equation $2\pi =\dfrac {C}{r}$ isn't talking about angles, it's just talking about the ratio of the circumference to the radius of a circle, where and how did this angle formula come about? Thanks! $\endgroup$ – seeker Jan 1 '14 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Basically how did we go from 2$\pi =\dfrac {C}{r}\rightarrow \theta =\dfrac {s}{r}$ $\endgroup$ – seeker Jan 1 '14 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Assad It's not quite as if $\theta$ has a meaning and we demonstrate that that meaning exactly coincides with $s/r$. Rather, there are lots of ways of measuring an angle: we just want it to not depend on the size of the circle. The point is that $s/r$ tells you the proportion of the circle without depending on the size of the circle, and so it's a reasonable new definition of "the measure of an angle". Does this clear things up? $\endgroup$ – Mark S. Jan 1 '14 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ Why doesn't s/r tell you anything about the size of the circle? Surely if you put in a large r value it means it's for a bigger circle? I'm sorry for testing your patience, you've cleared so much up for me, I feel I just need to understand one more thing and everything will click into place but I don't know the question to ask.. $\endgroup$ – seeker Jan 1 '14 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ Can you define a radian for me? Please, thanks. $\endgroup$ – seeker Jan 1 '14 at 17:09

The foundations of trigonometry are hard! (at least if you want a rigorous foundation then it is definitely hard and not possible without the use of calculus/real analysis).

Thus the most famous fact about circles namely that the circumference of a circle bears a constant ratio to its diameter is a non-trivial statement which can't be proved without calculus. However once you accept this fact the definition of radian measure is a cakewalk. The accepted answer by Mark S is based on this assumption and I don't want to add further on that.

However I think you should also try to understand as to why a circle is needed to measure an angle.


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