All you’ve ever wanted to know about absolute values (and weren’t afraid to ask)

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about absolute values, and so I thought I would try and clarify things here as much as possible. I’ll give some basic definitions and intuition, and then go through some examples, from easier to harder.

The absolute value function is just….a function. You give it a number, and it returns a number. In the same way that f(x)=x^2 is a function. You give it a number and it returns that number multiplied by itself. So the absolute value function, which we write as f(x)=|x| takes a number and returns the same number if the number was positive, and the negative of the number if it was negative, thus returning always a positive number.

We can think of this as the function “how far away from the point 0 (the origin) on the real number line is x?”. It doesn’t care about what direction it is, only how far away it is.…