Converting Between Logarithmic And Exponential Form

Learning Outcomes

  • Convert from logarithmic to exponential form.
  • Convert from exponential to logarithmic form.

In order to analyze the magnitude of earthquakes or compare the magnitudes of two different earthquakes, we need to be able to convert between logarithmic and exponential form. For example, suppose the amount of energy released from one earthquake was 500 times greater than the amount of energy released from another. We want to calculate the difference in magnitude. The equation that represents this problem is [latex]{10}^{x}=500[/latex] where x represents the difference in magnitudes on the Richter Scale. How would we solve for x?

We have not yet learned a method for solving exponential equations algebraically. None of the algebraic tools discussed so far is sufficient to solve [latex]{10}^{x}=500[/latex]. We know that [latex]{10}^{2}=100[/latex] and [latex]{10}^{3}=1000[/latex], so it is clear that x must be some value between 2 and 3 since [latex]y={10}^{x}[/latex] is increasing. We can examine a graph to better estimate the solution.

Graph of the intersections of the equations y=10^x and y=500.

Estimating from a graph, however, is imprecise. To find an algebraic solution, we must introduce a new function. Observe that the graph above passes the horizontal line test. The exponential function [latex]y={b}^{x}[/latex] is one-to-one, so its inverse, [latex]x={b}^{y}[/latex] is also a function. As is the case with all inverse functions, we simply interchange x and y and solve for y to find the inverse function. To represent y as a function of x, we use a logarithmic function of the form [latex]y={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex]. The base b logarithm of a number is the exponent by which we must raise b to get that number.

tip for success

Understanding what a logarithm is requires understanding what an exponent is. A logarithm is an exponent.

Read the paragraphs and boxes below carefully, perhaps more than once or twice, to gain the understanding of the inverse relationship between logarithms and exponents. Keep in mind that the inverse of a function effectively “undoes” what the other does.

You can use the definition of the logarithm given below to solve certain equations involving exponents and logarithms.

We read a logarithmic expression as, “The logarithm with base b of x is equal to y,” or, simplified, “log base b of x is y.” We can also say, “b raised to the power of y is x,” because logs are exponents. For example, the base 2 logarithm of 32 is 5, because 5 is the exponent we must apply to 2 to get 32. Since [latex]{2}^{5}=32[/latex], we can write [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{2}32=5[/latex]. We read this as “log base 2 of 32 is 5.”

We can express the relationship between logarithmic form and its corresponding exponential form as follows:

[latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)=y\Leftrightarrow {b}^{y}=x,\text{}b>0,b\ne 1[/latex]

Note that the base b is always positive.

Think b to the y equals x.

Because a logarithm is a function, it is most correctly written as [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex] using parentheses to denote function evaluation just as we would with [latex]f\left(x\right)[/latex]. However, when the input is a single variable or number, it is common to see the parentheses dropped and the expression written without parentheses as [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{b}x[/latex]. Note that many calculators require parentheses around the x.

We can illustrate the notation of logarithms as follows:

logb (c) = a means b to the A power equals C.

Notice that when comparing the logarithm function and the exponential function, the input and the output are switched. This means [latex]y={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex] and [latex]y={b}^{x}[/latex] are inverse functions.

A General Note: Definition of the Logarithmic Function

A logarithm base b of a positive number x satisfies the following definition:

For [latex]x>0,b>0,b\ne 1[/latex],

[latex]y={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)\text{ is equal to }{b}^{y}=x[/latex], where

  • we read [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)[/latex] as, “the logarithm with base b of x” or the “log base b of x.”
  • the logarithm y is the exponent to which b must be raised to get x.
  • if no base [latex]b[/latex] is indicated, the base of the logarithm is assumed to be [latex]10[/latex].

Also, since the logarithmic and exponential functions switch the x and y values, the domain and range of the exponential function are interchanged for the logarithmic function. Therefore,

  • the domain of the logarithm function with base [latex]b \text{ is} \left(0,\infty \right)[/latex].
  • the range of the logarithm function with base [latex]b \text{ is} \left(-\infty ,\infty \right)[/latex].

Q & A

Can we take the logarithm of a negative number?

No. Because the base of an exponential function is always positive, no power of that base can ever be negative. We can never take the logarithm of a negative number. Also, we cannot take the logarithm of zero. Calculators may output a log of a negative number when in complex mode, but the log of a negative number is not a real number.

How To: Given an equation in logarithmic form [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(x\right)=y[/latex], convert it to exponential form

  1. Examine the equation [latex]y={\mathrm{log}}_{b}x[/latex] and identify b, y, and x.
  2. Rewrite [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{b}x=y[/latex] as [latex]{b}^{y}=x[/latex].

Example: Converting from Logarithmic Form to Exponential Form

Write the following logarithmic equations in exponential form.

  1. [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{6}\left(\sqrt{6}\right)=\frac{1}{2}[/latex]
  2. [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{3}\left(9\right)=2[/latex]

Try It

Write the following logarithmic equations in exponential form.

  1. [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{10}\left(1,000,000\right)=6[/latex]
  2. [latex]{\mathrm{log}}_{5}\left(25\right)=2[/latex]

Convert from Exponential to Logarithmic Form

To convert from exponential to logarithmic form, we follow the same steps in reverse. We identify the base b, exponent x, and output y. Then we write [latex]x={\mathrm{log}}_{b}\left(y\right)[/latex].

Example: Converting from Exponential Form to Logarithmic Form

Write the following exponential equations in logarithmic form.

  1. [latex]{2}^{3}=8[/latex]
  2. [latex]{5}^{2}=25[/latex]
  3. [latex]{10}^{-4}=\frac{1}{10,000}[/latex]

Try It

Write the following exponential equations in logarithmic form.

  1. [latex]{3}^{2}=9[/latex]
  2. [latex]{5}^{3}=125[/latex]
  3. [latex]{2}^{-1}=\frac{1}{2}[/latex]