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Notes on Vector Addition Name:____________________

Purpose: Today I will learn vector components and how to add vectors together.
Relevance: Vectors are used in almost every chapter of physics. Learning to properly add vectors will make many
problems much easier for you to solve.
Success: I will be successful today if I can add horizontal, perpendicular, and odd angle vectors.

Basic Vector vocabulary

 Vectors have a magnitude and direction.

Example: A velocity vector might look like this: 25 m/s

It could be written like this: 25 m/s, right or 25 m/s @ 0o or (25 m/s, 0o)

 The positive X-axis is 0o. Positive Y-axis is 90o. Negative X is 180o. Negative Y is 270o.
 When two or more vectors are added together, the answer to the problem is called the Resultant. The
resultant is also a vector and would include a magnitude and angle.

Adding Parallel Vectors

 All the vectors being added are parallel to each other.

 In that case the magnitudes add like integers.

Example 1 2.0 m/s + 4.0 m/s + 3.0 m/s = 3.0 m/s

(Note that in the example above, right was considered positive and left negative, so the third vector’s
magnitude was subtracted. 2.0 + 4.0 – 3.0 = 3.0)

Adding Vectors at Right Angles

 The vectors being added are at right angles to each other.

 In this case, the vectors are treated as sides of a right triangle. The resultant would be the hypotenuse
of the triangle. The angle of the resultant is referenced to the positive X-axis.
 We use the Pythagorean Theorem to find the hypotenuse and the tangent function to find the angle.

X2 + Y2 = R2 tan =

Example 1: A river is flowing due east (0o) at a speed of 5.00 m/s. A boat is travelling due north (90 o)
across the river at a speed of 8.00 m/s. Find the resultant velocity vector of the boat.
Solution: A diagram of the problem would look like this:

R 8.00 m/s

5.00 m/s

Solution Continued:
To find R: R2 = 8.002 + 5.002
R = √89.0 = 9.43 m/s

To find : tan = (8.00/5.00)

 = tan-1(1.60) = 58.0o

Answer: 9.43 m/s, 58.0o or 9.43 m/s @ 58.0o

Note: If the resultant is supposed to be in the 2nd or 3rd quadrants, then using tangent to find the angle will
give you 180o off from the angle you want. In a case like that, you add 180.000 o to your angle to get the
correct one.)

Finding X and Y Components

 Every vector has what we call an “X component” and a “Y component”. If you think of a vector as the
hypotenuse of a triangle, then the X and Y components would be the two sides of the triangle.

Examples: 10.0 m 20.0 N

Y component Y comp.

X component
X component

 To find the X and Y components we use

X = Rcos and Y = Rsin

Where  is always measured from the positive X axis.

Example: Find the X and Y components of the vector 44.5 m/s, 138o

X = 44.5cos138o = -33.1 m/s

Y = 44.5sin138o = 29.8 m/s

Example: Find the X and Y components of 22.7 N @ -65o

X = 22.7cos-65o = 9.6 N
Y = 22.7sin-65o = -21 N
Adding Vectors that are NOT at right angles.

 When adding vectors that are not at right angles, you can’t just use the Pythagorean Theorem and the
tangent of the angle.
 The strategy is to find the X and Y components of all of the vectors being added. Then, add up all of
the X components to find the X component of the resultant. Add up all of the Y components to find
the Y component of the resultant.
 THEN you can use the Pythagorean Theorem and tangent of  to find the resultant.
 I recommend using the “Vector Grid” method. It helps keep the X and Y components straight, and it
helps with sig figs. The following is a vector addition using “The Grid”.

Example: Add the three force vectors listed below to find the resultant force.
F1 = 30.0 N @ 45.0o F2 = 60.0 N @ 143.0o F3 = 87.4 N @ 245o


Step 1: Draw a grid that has 3 columns and enough rows for all three vectors plus the resultant.

Vector X component Y component

Step 2: Fill in the X and y components of the three vectors using X = Rcos and Y = Rsin

Vector X component Y component

1 30.0cos45.0o 30.0sin45.0o

2 60.0cos143.0o 60.0sin143.0o

3 87.4cos245o 87.4sin245o

Multiply and round to the least number of sig figs.

It should look like this:

Vector X component Y component

1 21.2 21.2

2 -47.9 36.1

3 -36.9 -79.2

Step 3: Add the X components straight down to get the X component of the resultant. Do the same
with the Y components. When adding, choose the correct place value to add to.

Vector X component Y component

1 21.2 21.2

2 -47.9 36.1

3 -36.9 -79.2

R -63.6 -21.9

Step 4: Use the Pythagorean Theorem to find R.

R2 = (63.6)2 + (21.9)2 = 4040 + 480 = 4520

R = √4520 = 67.2 N

Step 5: Use tan = to find .
Tan = = .344

 = tan-1(.344) = 19.0o

Since (-63.6,-21.9) should be in the 3rd quadrant, we add 180.000o to our angle.

Q = 19.0o + 180.0o = 199.0o

Final Answer: R = 67.2 N, 199.0o