# Explainer: The Argument of a Complex Number

In this explainer, we will learn how to identify the argument of a complex number and how to calculate it.

### Definition: Argument of a Complex Number

The argument of a complex number is defined as the angle that the line from the origin to makes with the positive real axis (-axis), measured in a counterclockwise direction. The argument is usually denoted , although, in some textbooks, it might be denoted .

The argument of a complex number is usually given in radians in the range . However, it is legitimate to talk about a complex number having an argument greater than or less than . For this reason, if the argument is given or asked to be given in this range, it is usually referred to at the principal argument. Some sources use the range for the principal argument, although this is less common.

### Example 1: Argument of a Complex Number

Find the argument of the complex number in radians. Give your answer correct to two decimal places.

We begin by plotting the complex number on an Argand diagram.

The argument of the complex number is the angle that it makes with the positive real axis; we have labeled this . Using the inverse tangent function, we can calculate as follows:

Hence, radians to two decimal places.

In the previous example, we were able to calculate the argument by evaluating the inverse tangent of . This, however, is not a general rule we can apply to any complex number. We need to be a little more careful as the next example will demonstrate.

### Example 2: Argument of a Complex Number in the Second Quadrant

Given that , find the principal argument of .

We begin by plotting the complex number on an Argand diagram as shown below.

The argument of the complex number is the angle that it makes with the positive real axis; we have labeled this . To calculate , we will begin by finding as follows:

We can then calculate the principal argument as follows:

Had we naively tried to calculate the argument of by evaluating we would have got

Looking at the Argand diagram, we can see that this is not the argument of the complex number. However, by adding to we would have arrived at the correct value of .

The previous example demonstrates that we need to be careful when calculating the argument of a complex number when it does not lie in the first quadrant. Secondly, it highlights that there are different approaches by which we can calculate .

In the two boxes below, we outline two different methods to calculate the argument of a complex number. Whichever method you chose to use, plotting the number on an Argand diagram will be extremely useful and will help you avoid common errors in calculating the argument.

### How to Find the Argument of a Complex Number 1

To find the argument, , of a complex number , we need to consider which quadrant it lies in.

Quadrants 1 and 4: If is in the first or fourth quadrant of the Argand diagram , we can simply use the inverse tangent function and calculate

Quadrant 2: However, if the complex number is in the second quadrant ( and ), we need to add to the value we get using the inverse tangent function. Hence,

Quadrant 3: If the complex number is in the third quadrant ( and ), we need to subtract from the value we get using the inverse tangent function. Hence,

Finally, if the complex number is purely imaginary , then if , and if . If , the argument is undefined.

An alternative method for finding the argument of a complex number is explained below.

### How to Find the Argument of a Complex Number 2

We define the angle to be the positive acute angle between the line linking to the origin and the real axis as shown in the diagram.

We can then calculate the argument of in different quadrants as follows.

If , the argument is not defined.

Having established the basics of the definition of the argument and how to calculate it. We will now look at some of its important properties.

### Example 3: Relationship between the Complex Conjugate and the Argument

Consider the complex number .

Part 1

We begin by plotting the complex number on an Argand diagram as shown below.

As we can see, lies in the third quadrant. Therefore, to find the argument represented by angle , we first calculate as follows:

Hence, to calculate , we subtract from which gives

Part 2

To find the conjugate , we switch the sign of the imaginary part. Hence, . We now plot on an Argand diagram.

Given that is in the second quadrant, we will find the argument of by first calculating :

Then, to find the argument of , we subtract from :

The previous example demonstrates a general rule of the argument: for any complex number ,

Next, we might want to consider whether there is a simple relationship between addition and the argument of a complex number. If we consider the geometric meaning of addition to be adding vectors using the triangle or parallelogram rule, we see that knowing angles (or, specifically, the arguments) will not be sufficient to solve the triangle. This is one way we can understand why there is no simple relationship between addition and the argument.

As an alternative way to see why no such simple relationship exists, let us consider the three complex numbers , , and .

We can see that and . Furthermore, which has an argument of 0, whereas whose argument is clearly not zero. We can, in fact, calculate the exact value of the argument as follows:

By multiplying both the numerator and the denominator by the conjugate of the denominator, we can simplify the fraction:

Expanding the brackets, we get

Finally, we can simplify and evaluate the inverse tangent to get

What we have demonstrated is that knowing both and is not sufficient to be able to calculate .

### Example 4: Arguments of Products and Quotients

Consider the complex numbers and .

1. Find and .
2. Calculate . How does this compare to and ?
3. Calculate . How does this compare to and ?

Part 1

Let us start by plotting and on an Argand diagram.

Since and lie in the first and fourth quadrants, respectively, we can use the inverse tangent to find their argument as follows: and

Part 2

We begin by calculating as follows: expanding the brackets, we get

Using and gathering like terms, we get

Since both the real and the imaginary parts are positive,