Revisiting Irrational Numbers
In Class IX, you were introduced to irrational numbers and many of their properties.
You studied about their existence and how the rationals and the irrationals together
made up the real numbers. You even studied how to locate irrationals on the number
line. However, we did not prove that they were irrationals. In this section, we will
prove that 2 , 3 , 5 and, in general, p is irrational, where p is a prime. One of
the theorems, we use in our proof, is the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic.
Recall, a number ‘s’ is called irrational if it cannot be written in the form ,
p
q
where p and q are integers and q ¹ 0. Some examples of irrational numbers, with
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which you are already familiar, are :
2 2, 3, 15 , , , 0.10110111011110 . . .
3
p − , etc.
Before we prove that 2 is irrational, we need the following theorem, whose
proof is based on the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic.
Theorem 1.3 : Let p be a prime number. If p divides a2, then p divides a, where
a is a positive integer.
*Proof : Let the prime factorisation of a be as follows :
a = p1p2 . . . pn, where p1,p2, . . ., pn are primes, not necessarily distinct.
Therefore, a2 = (p1p2 . . . pn)( p1 p 2 . . . pn) = p2
1p2
2 . . . p2
n.
Now, we are given that p divides a2. Therefore, from the Fundamental Theorem of
Arithmetic, it follows that p is one of the prime factors of a2. However, using the
uniqueness part of the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic, we realise that the only
prime factors of a2 are p
1, p
2, . . ., p
n. So p is one of p
1, p
2, . . ., p
n.
Now, since a = p1 p2 . . . pn, p divides a.
We are now ready to give a proof that 2 is irrational.
The proof is based on a technique called ‘proof by contradiction’. (This technique is
discussed in some detail in Appendix 1).
Theorem 1.4 : 2 is irrational.
Proof : Let us assume, to the contrary, that 2 is rational.
So, we can find integers r and s (¹ 0) such that 2 =
r
s
.
Suppose r and s have a common factor other than 1. Then, we divide by the common
factor to get 2 ,
a
b
= where a and b are coprime.
So, b 2 = a.
Squaring on both sides and rearranging, we get 2b2 = a2. Therefore, 2 divides a2.
Now, by Theorem 1.3, it follows that 2 divides a.
So, we can write a = 2c for some integer c.
* Not from the examination point of view.
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Substituting for a, we get 2b2 = 4c2, that is, b2 = 2c2.
This means that 2 divides b2, and so 2 divides b (again using Theorem 1.3 with p = 2).
Therefore, a and b have at least 2 as a common factor.
But this contradicts the fact that a and b have no common factors other than 1.
This contradiction has arisen because of our incorrect assumption that 2 is rational.
So, we conclude that 2 is irrational.
Example 9 : Prove that 3 is irrational.
Solution : Let us assume, to the contrary, that 3 is rational.
That is, we can find integers a and b (¹ 0) such that 3 =
a
b
×
Suppose a and b have a common factor other than 1, then we can divide by the
common factor, and assume that a and b are coprime.
So, b 3 = a×
Squaring on both sides, and rearranging, we get 3b2 = a2.
Therefore, a2 is divisible by 3, and by Theorem 1.3, it follows that a is also divisible
by 3.
So, we can write a = 3c for some integer c.
Substituting for a, we get 3b2 = 9c2, that is, b2 = 3c2.
This means that b2 is divisible by 3, and so b is also divisible by 3 (using Theorem 1.3
with p = 3).
Therefore, a and b have at least 3 as a common factor.
But this contradicts the fact that a and b are coprime.
This contradiction has arisen because of our incorrect assumption that 3 is rational.
So, we conclude that 3 is irrational.
In Class IX, we mentioned that :
l the sum or difference of a rational and an irrational number is irrational and
l the product and quotient of a non-zero rational and irrational number is
irrational.
We prove some particular cases here.
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Example 10 : Show that 5 – 3 is irrational.
Solution : Let us assume, to the contrary, that 5 – 3 is rational.
That is, we can find coprime a and b (b ¹ 0) such that 5 3
a
b
− = ×
Therefore, 5 3
a
b
− = ×
Rearranging this equation, we get
5
3 5 –
a b a
b b

= = ×
Since a and b are integers, we get 5 –
a
b
is rational, and so 3 is rational.
But this contradicts the fact that 3 is irrational.
This contradiction has arisen because of our incorrect assumption that 5 – 3 is
rational.
So, we conclude that 5 − 3 is irrational.
Example 11 : Show that 3 2 is irrational.
Solution : Let us assume, to the contrary, that 3 2 is rational.
That is, we can find coprime a and b (b ¹ 0) such that 3 2
a
b
= ×
Rearranging, we get 2
3
a
b
= ×
Since 3, a and b are integers,
3
a
b
is rational, and so 2 is rational.
But this contradicts the fact that 2 is irrational.
So, we conclude that 3 2 is irrational.