Coordinate Geometry: Solving GMAT Problems With Lines Crossing Either the X-Axis or the Y-Axis

Quarter Wit, Quarter WisdomToday let’s learn about the cases in which lines on the XY plane cross, or do not cross, the x- or y-axis. Students often struggle with questions such as this:

Does the line with equation ax+by = c, where a,b and c are real constants, cross the x-axis?

What concepts will you use here? How will you find whether or not a line crosses the x-axis? What conditions should it meet? Think about this a little before you move ahead.

We know that most lines on the XY plane cross the x-axis as well as the y-axis. Even if it looks like a given line doesn’t cross either of these axes, eventually, it will if it has a slope other than 0 or infinity.

QWQW pic 1






Note that by definition, a line extends infinitely in both directions – it has no end points (otherwise it would be a line “segment”). We cannot depict a line extending infinitely, which is why we will only show a small section of it. Ideally, a line on the XY plane should be shown with arrowheads to depict that it extends infinitely on both sides, but we often omit them for our convenience. For instance, if we try to extend the example line above, we see that it does, in fact, cross the x-axis:

QWQW pic 2






So what kind of lines do not cross either the x-axis or the y-xis? We know that the equation of a line on the XY plane is given by ax + by  + c = 0. We also know that if we want to find the slope of a line, we can use the equation y = (-a/b)x – c/b, where the slope of the line is -a/b.

A line with a slope of 0 is parallel to the x-axis. For the slope (i.e. -a/b) to be 0, a must equal 0. So if a = 0, the line will not cross the x-axis – it is parallel to the x-axis. The equation of the line, in this case, will become y = k. In all other cases, a line will cross the x-axis at some point.

Similarly, it might appear that a line doesn’t cross the y-axis but it does at some point if its slope is anything other than infinity. A line with a slope of infinity is parallel to the y-axis. For -a/b to be infinity, b must equal 0. So if b = 0, the line will not cross the y-axis. The equation of the line in this case will become x = k. In all other cases, a line will cross the y-axis at some point.

Now, we can easily solve this official question:

Does the line with equation ax+by = c, where a, b and c are real constants, cross the x-axis?

Statement 1: b not equal to 0

Statement 2: ab > 0

As we discussed earlier, all lines cross the x-axis except lines which have a slope of 0, i.e. a = 0.

Statement 1: b not equal to 0

This tells statement us that b is not 0 – which means the line is not parallel to y-axis – but it doesn’t tell us whether or not a is 0, so we don’t know whether the line is parallel to the x-axis or crosses it. Therefore, this statement alone is not sufficient.

Statement 2: ab>0

If ab > 0, it means that neither a nor b is 0 (since any number times 0 will equal 0). This means the line is parallel to neither x-axis nor the y-xis, and therefore must cross the x-axis. This statement alone is sufficient and our answer is B.

Hopefully this has helped clear up some coordinate geometry concepts today.

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Karishma, a Computer Engineer with a keen interest in alternative Mathematical approaches, has mentored students in the continents of Asia, Europe and North America. She teaches the GMAT for Veritas Prep and regularly participates in content development projects such as this blog!