Why is the absolute value function not differentiable at x=0x=0?

They say that the right and left limits do not approach the same value hence it does not satisfy the definition of derivative. But what does it mean verbally in terms of rate of change?


There are 2 ways to understand your question, one is asking for a proof, the other is asking for intuitive reasoning, I will answer both here.

Proof that |x| is not differentiable at x=0

We are trying to find

Let’s find the right limit
Since h>0
Let’s find the left limit
Since h<0

If the left and right limits are not the same, the limit does not exist.

Intuitive reasoning

What does the derivative represent? The slope of the tangent line. Looking at different values of the absolute value function in some plots:

gif of |x|

Note that the tangent line is below the actual line for the absolute value function.

The problem with the derivative at x=0 is that it changes abrubtly, and derivatives don't like that. Compare to the same plot but with x^2

gif of x^2

The difference is clear, the tangent line smoothly changes when approaching x=0 instead of the abrubt change from one line to another. This is why the derivative does not exist at x=0 for |x|.

Another way to think about derivatives is as “the slope of the line you get, when you zoom in really far”. If you zoom in on x^2 it'll look a lot like a straight line, but if you zoom in on |x|, it will never look like a straight line. If a function is differentiable, it will look like a straight line when you zoom in far enough.

Source : Link , Question Author : user187397 , Answer Author : Alice Ryhl

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