In this explainer, we will learn how to apply integration to find the area between the curve of a function and a horizontal or vertical straight line.

Finding the area underneath the curve of a function is a very useful technique that has many applications. For example, finding the area underneath a velocity–time graph of an object between two points in time gives the total distance traveled over that time.

The area underneath a straight-line graph is fairly straightforward to calculate. For example, consider the area enclosed by the curve of the function, , and the between two points, and .

We can find the enclosed area using the standard formula for the area of a trapezoid: where and are the lengths of the two parallel sides and is the distance between them. Applying this formula to the enclosed region on the graph, our two parallel sides have lengths and , and the height . Therefore, we have

With , we then have

This approach works fine when we have a linear function, , and we can use simple geometry, but it will not work for more complicated functions. For instance, if the velocity of an object is not changing at a constant rate (i.e., its acceleration is not constant), then the velocity–time graph will not be a straight line, and we cannot easily find the area this way.

For a general curve of the function , the area between the curve and the , and between the vertical lines and , is given by the *fundamental theorem of calculus*.

We define a new function to be the area between the curve, , the , and the vertical lines and , a general value of .

Increasing the upper bound of the area by a small amount, , the increment of the area function is given by

Rearranging gives the change in divided by the change in :

This is the *derivative* of with respect to . The original area function , the area under the curve between 0 and , is given by *inverting* the differentiation operation on both sides of the equation. On the right-hand side, this gives the *antiderivative*, , of : where .

Now, consider the exact same scenario, but evaluating the area under the curve between two specific values of , and .

The area under the curve and between and is given by

Evaluating the antiderivative at two points and and taking the difference is called the *definite integral* between and and is denoted

Therefore, the area under the curve and between and is given by

The right-hand side is often denoted where the square brackets with on the bottom right and on the top right indicate that is being evaluated at and , and then the difference, , is taken. The arbitrary constant of integration, , is omitted for a definite integral, since it is the same for both and and is therefore cancelled out.

### Theorem: The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus

The area enclosed between a curve, , the , and the two vertical lines and is given by where is the *antiderivative* of . The right-hand side is often denoted where the square brackets with on the bottom right and on the top right indicate that is being evaluated at and , then the difference, , is taken.

Let’s return to the previous example function, , and this time we will use integration to find the area underneath the curve between two points and , as shown in the diagram below.

Using the formula for the area under a curve, , between and ,

In this case, we have , which gives

Integrating with respect to gives

Evaluating at and and taking the difference,

This result agrees precisely with the result found previously from the area of the trapezoid. However, the huge advantage of using integration to find the area under a curve is that it extends to far more complicated functions for which it would otherwise be impossible to calculate the area.

Let’s look at an example of using integration to find the area under a more complicated curve.

### Example 1: Finding the Area under the Curve of a Quadratic Function

Let . Determine the area bounded by the curve , the , and the two lines and .

### Answer

It can be helpful to sketch the area we are asked to calculate. In this case, this is the area bounded by the lines and and the curve .

Recall that the area between a curve , the , and two lines and is given by the definite integral where is the antiderivative of such that . Substituting in the given function, , and the limits, and :

Integrating with respect to gives and evaluating this between the limits and gives

For some functions, there are regions for which the curve lies *below* the . By the nature of how we evaluate the area between a curve and the , since the increment is always positive, the area element will of course be *negative* if the function, , is negative at this point.

Therefore, any area enclosed *below* the by the curve will evaluate as *negative*. Since area is a strictly positive quantity, this is often dealt with by taking the *absolute* value of the definite integral for each region.

Let’s look at an example of how we can use integration to find the area enclosed by a curve below the .

### Example 2: Using Definite Integration to Find the Area between Two Lines and below the Horizontal Axis

The curve shown is . What is the area of the shaded region? Give an exact answer.

### Answer

Recall that the area between a curve , the , and two lines and is given by the definite integral where is the antiderivative of such that . Substituting in the given function, , and the limits, and :

Integrating with respect to gives we recall that the natural logarithm is undefined for negative values of , so we take the absolute value.

Evaluating this between the limits and :

Notice that the result is negative. This is because the area between the curve and the is *beneath* the . Taking the absolute value, we find that the true value for the *area* of the shaded region is (to 3 d.p.) square units.

Sometimes, deducing the true value of the area enclosed by a curve is not as straightforward as taking the absolute value of the definite integral. Let’s look at an example where we need to be more careful with this method.

### Example 3: Using Definite Integration to Find the Area of Regions above and below the Horizontal Axis

The figure shows the graph of the function . Evaluate the area of the shaded region.

### Answer

Recall that the area between a curve , the , and two lines and is given by the definite integral where is the antiderivative of such that .

In this example, the function, , is an *odd* function. That is, it is perfectly antisymmetric about the , so . This in turn means that the area between and any value will be exactly the same as the area between and . When using definite integration to find the area, however, the integral on one side of the will have the *opposite sign* to the integral on the other.

This means that when integrating between two equal and opposite values as we are here, between and , we will find that the integral on one side of the will cancel out the integral on the other side, giving a total of zero:

Integrating with respect to gives

We are now evaluating an *even* function (i.e., ) at two equal and opposite values before taking the difference, so the result will be zero:

Clearly, however, the area of the complete shaded region is not zero. To correct this problem, we need to evaluate the area of each *part* of the shaded region *separately*.

In this example, we have two separate regions enclosed by the curve, , and the - and -axes.

So, we need to evaluate the integral between and , and the integral between and separately, take the absolute value of each integral to give the area, and then add them together to give the area of the complete shaded region.

For the first region, we have

And for the second region:

The negative value is expected, since the region between and is below the . Taking the absolute value to give the area:

Therefore, the total area of the complete shaded region is the sum of these two areas:

The fundamental theorem of calculus is of course not restricted to functions of the independent variable (usually ). It can also be used to find the area enclosed by a function of .

### Theorem: Area Enclosed by a Curve of a Function of 𝑦

The area enclosed between a curve , the , and the two horizontal lines and is given by where is the *antiderivative* of . The right-hand side is often denoted where the square brackets with on the bottom right and on the top right indicate that is being evaluated at and , then the difference, , is taken.

In our next example the area we seek is bounded by a function of and two horizontal lines.

### Example 4: Using Definite Integration to Find the Area between an Implicit Function and Two Horizontal Lines

Find the area enclosed by the graph of , the , and the lines and .

### Answer

It can be helpful to sketch the area we are asked to calculate. In this case, this is the area bounded by the lines and and the curve .

is a negative quadratic function of , so the curve is an n-shaped parabola around the . To find the -intercept, we substitute into the equation of the function and solve it for , which gives

So the curve intercepts the at . Next, to find the -intercepts of the curve, we substitute into the equation of the function and solve it for , which gives

Hence, the curve intercepts the at and . We now have enough information to sketch the curve.

Recall that the area between a curve , the , and two lines and is given by the definite integral: where is the antiderivative of such that .

In this case, however, we cannot simply rearrange the function of the curve for and integrate with respect to , since the area above the is equal to the area below it, and the result from the integration will be zero.

If we try to proceed this way, we start with so,

The problem in this specific case is that the function does not map to a unique value of , since the square root can be either positive or negative; therefore, it is impossible to know which area we are evaluating.

In this case, maps a given value of to *both* the positive square root *and* the negative square root .

Taking the positive square root gives the area enclosed by the curve above the .

Since we have changed the function to a strictly one-to-one function, we can now evaluate this area in the usual way with a definite integral:

Likewise, taking the negative square root gives the area enclosed by the curve below the .

Once again, we can evaluate this area with a definite integral:

Adding these areas together gives a result of 0, but we can use our knowledge that the true area is given by the sum of these absolute values:

A simpler alternative is to integrate with respect to instead. Essentially, this switches the variables around. Consider taking a horizontal strip of the area, enclosed by and the , with width and height .

The function can be integrated with respect to y between and , since there is no inherent difference between and as variables, and it is merely convention that is usually the independent variable. Furthermore, this function maps to a single value of , so it can be integrated without needing to split the integral into separate regions. Thus, we have

Integrating with respect to gives

Definite integrals can also be used to find the area enclosed *between* the curve of a function and the curve of another function , by using the fact that the integral operator, like the differential operator, is a *linear operator*, meaning that it is *closed under addition*:

This extends to subtraction too, since integration is also *closed under scalar multiplication*: where is a scalar. Taking the specific case of , and combining this with the first property, we can express the difference between two integrals as a single integral:

For the simpler case of the second function being a constant, horizontal line , we then have

Therefore, we can find the area enclosed by a curve and a horizontal line between two points and using the formula

Let’s look at an example of how we use this to find the area enclosed between a curve and a straight line.

### Example 5: Using Definite Integration to Find the Area Enclosed by a Curve and a Horizontal Line

Find the area of the shaded region.

### Answer

The area of this shaded region could be found by evaluating the definite integral of the curve between the limits and , then subtracting the area of the rectangle below it, which we can find easily with the standard formula for the area of a rectangle.

However, recall that we can also find the area enclosed by a curve and a horizontal line between two points and using the formula

In this case, we have the curve and the horizontal line . Substituting these into the formula above gives

Integrating with respect to ,

Let’s finish by recapping some of the key points from this explainer.

### Key Points

- The area enclosed by a curve , the , and two horizontal lines and is given by
- The area enclosed by a curve , the , and two vertical lines and is given by
- A region enclosed above the / gives a positive integral, and a region enclosed below the / gives a negative integral. Since area is a strictly positive quantity, to find the area enclosed we take the absolute value of the integral for each individual enclosed region.
- The area enclosed by a curve , another horizontal line , and two lines and is given by