### Learning Outcomes

- Find the formula for the general term of a sequence

To work with this new topic, we need some new terms and definitions. First, an infinite sequence is an ordered list of numbers of the form

Each of the numbers in the sequence is called a term. The symbol [latex]n[/latex] is called the index variable for the sequence. We use the notation

to denote this sequence. A similar notation is used for sets, but a sequence is an ordered list, whereas a set is not ordered. Because a particular number [latex]{a}_{n}[/latex] exists for each positive integer [latex]n[/latex], we can also define a sequence as a function whose domain is the set of positive integers.

Let’s consider the infinite, ordered list

This is a sequence in which the first, second, and third terms are given by [latex]{a}_{1}=2[/latex], [latex]{a}_{2}=4[/latex], and [latex]{a}_{3}=8[/latex]. You can probably see that the terms in this sequence have the following pattern:

Assuming this pattern continues, we can write the [latex]n\text{th}[/latex] term in the sequence by the explicit formula [latex]{a}_{n}={2}^{n}[/latex]. Using this notation, we can write this sequence as

Alternatively, we can describe this sequence in a different way. Since each term is twice the previous term, this sequence can be defined recursively by expressing the [latex]n\text{th}[/latex] term [latex]{a}_{n}[/latex] in terms of the previous term [latex]{a}_{n - 1}[/latex]. In particular, we can define this sequence as the sequence [latex]\left\{{a}_{n}\right\}[/latex] where [latex]{a}_{1}=2[/latex] and for all [latex]n\ge 2[/latex], each term [latex]{a}_{n}[/latex] is defined by the recurrence relation [latex]{a}_{n}=2{a}_{n - 1}[/latex].

### Definition

An **infinite sequence** [latex]\left\{{a}_{n}\right\}[/latex] is an ordered list of numbers of the form

The subscript [latex]n[/latex] is called the **index variable** of the sequence. Each number [latex]{a}_{n}[/latex] is a term of the sequence. Sometimes sequences are defined by **explicit formulas**, in which case [latex]{a}_{n}=f\left(n\right)[/latex] for some function [latex]f\left(n\right)[/latex] defined over the positive integers. In other cases, sequences are defined by using a **recurrence relation**. In a recurrence relation, one term (or more) of the sequence is given explicitly, and subsequent terms are defined in terms of earlier terms in the sequence.

Note that the index does not have to start at [latex]n=1[/latex] but could start with other integers. For example, a sequence given by the explicit formula [latex]{a}_{n}=f\left(n\right)[/latex] could start at [latex]n=0[/latex], in which case the sequence would be

Similarly, for a sequence defined by a recurrence relation, the term [latex]{a}_{0}[/latex] may be given explicitly, and the terms [latex]{a}_{n}[/latex] for [latex]n\ge 1[/latex] may be defined in terms of [latex]{a}_{n - 1}[/latex]. Since a sequence [latex]\left\{{a}_{n}\right\}[/latex] has exactly one value for each positive integer [latex]n[/latex], it can be described as a function whose domain is the set of positive integers. As a result, it makes sense to discuss the graph of a sequence. The graph of a sequence [latex]\left\{{a}_{n}\right\}[/latex] consists of all points [latex]\left(n,{a}_{n}\right)[/latex] for all positive integers [latex]n[/latex]. Figure 1 shows the graph of [latex]\left\{{2}^{n}\right\}[/latex].

Two types of sequences occur often and are given special names: arithmetic sequences and geometric sequences. In an **arithmetic sequence**, the *difference* between every pair of consecutive terms is the same. For example, consider the sequence

You can see that the difference between every consecutive pair of terms is [latex]4[/latex]. Assuming that this pattern continues, this sequence is an arithmetic sequence. It can be described by using the recurrence relation

Note that

Thus the sequence can also be described using the explicit formula

In general, an arithmetic sequence is any sequence of the form [latex]{a}_{n}=cn+b[/latex].

In a **geometric sequence**, the *ratio* of every pair of consecutive terms is the same. For example, consider the sequence

We see that the ratio of any term to the preceding term is [latex]-\frac{1}{3}[/latex]. Assuming this pattern continues, this sequence is a geometric sequence. It can be defined recursively as

Alternatively, since

we see that the sequence can be described by using the explicit formula

The sequence [latex]\left\{{2}^{n}\right\}[/latex] that we discussed earlier is a geometric sequence, where the ratio of any term to the previous term is [latex]2[/latex]. In general, a geometric sequence is any sequence of the form [latex]{a}_{n}=c{r}^{n}[/latex].

### Example: Finding Explicit Formulas

For each of the following sequences, find an explicit formula for the [latex]n\text{th}[/latex] term of the sequence.

- [latex]-\frac{1}{2},\frac{2}{3},-\frac{3}{4},\frac{4}{5},-\frac{5}{6}\text{,}\ldots[/latex]
- [latex]\frac{3}{4},\frac{9}{7},\frac{27}{10},\frac{81}{13},\frac{243}{16}\text{,}\ldots[/latex]

### try it

Find an explicit formula for the [latex]n\text{th}[/latex] term of the sequence [latex]\left\{\frac{1}{5},-\frac{1}{7},\frac{1}{9},-\frac{1}{11}\text{,}\ldots\right\}[/latex].

Watch the following video to see the worked solution to the above Try IT.

For closed captioning, open the video on its original page by clicking the Youtube logo in the lower right-hand corner of the video display. In YouTube, the video will begin at the same starting point as this clip, but will continue playing until the very end.

You can view the transcript for this segmented clip of “5.1.1” here (opens in new window).

### Example: Defined by Recurrence Relations

For each of the following recursively defined sequences, find an explicit formula for the sequence.

- [latex]{a}_{1}=2[/latex], [latex]{a}_{n}=-3{a}_{n - 1}[/latex] for [latex]n\ge 2[/latex]
- [latex]{a}_{1}=\frac{1}{2}[/latex], [latex]{a}_{n}={a}_{n - 1}+{\left(\frac{1}{2}\right)}^{n}[/latex] for [latex]n\ge 2[/latex]

### try it

Find an explicit formula for the sequence defined recursively such that [latex]{a}_{1}=-4[/latex] and [latex]{a}_{n}={a}_{n - 1}+6[/latex].

Watch the following video to see the worked solution to the above Try IT.

For closed captioning, open the video on its original page by clicking the Youtube logo in the lower right-hand corner of the video display. In YouTube, the video will begin at the same starting point as this clip, but will continue playing until the very end.

You can view the transcript for this segmented clip of “5.1.1” here (opens in new window).