Components of a vector

A vector that is directed at angles to the customary coordinate axes, can be transformed into two parts. Each part is directed along the individual coordinate axes and these parts are mutually perpendicular.

This process is commonly used in problems in engineering where forces are very often acting at some angle from the coordinate axes. The component of a force parallel to the x-axis is called the x-component, the one parallel to the y-axis is the y-component, and so on.

In order to define the components of a vector such as the one presented in the figure below, basic trigonometry has to be applied as follows:

Fx=Fcosθx=Fsinθy F x is equal to F per cosine of theta x, which is equal to F per sine of theta y

Fy=Fsinθx=Fcosθy F y is equal to F per sine of theta x, which is equal to F per cosine of theta y

F2=Fx2+Fy2 F to the square is equal to Fx to the square plus Fy to the square

tanθx=Fy/Fx tangent of theta x is equal to fy divided by fx

A coordinate axis is displayed. One arrow labelled F is pointing diagonally upwards and to the right. The angle between this main arrow and the y axis is called theta y and the angle between the main arrow and the x axis is called theta x. The F arrow is broken up into two: Fy, which points upwards in the y-axis and Fx, which points to the right in the x-axis.

Figure: The components Fx and Fy of a force F. θy is the angle of the force F to the y-axis and θx is the angle to the x-axis.