L'Hôspital's rule – Serlo

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As a final application of the mean value theorem, more precisely the second mean value theorem, we want to derive L'Hospital's rule. This is a practical way to determine the limit of a quotient by separately differentiating numerator and denominator. The rule is named after the French mathematician Guillaume de l'Hôpital, but was first derived by the Swiss mathematician Johann Bernoulli.

L’Hospital's rule[Bearbeiten]

Theorem (L’Hospital's rule)

Let and with or with . Let be two differentiable functions where for all . Further, suppose that the limit exists and one of the following two statements is true:

  1. and
  2. .

Then, there is .

Proof (L’Hospital's rule)

We first look at the case with . Because and we can continue the functions and continuously. We obtain the functions with and for all . Further we set and .

We now look at any sequence which converges towards . Since the functions and are continuous, we can apply the generalized mean value theorem. So there is a sequence , such that for all we have or and

Somit folgt

Since this does even hold for every arbitrary sequence , there is in total .


case 2

Now let us consider the case . To do this, we define the auxiliary functions choosing a with for or for . We set or . For all we set and .

In the sequencesden we consider only the case , because the proof for is analogous. There is:

We can therefore apply L'Hospital's rule for the case , which we have already proved. There is:


theorem fertig schreiben

Examples and applications[Bearbeiten]

Standard types and [Bearbeiten]

First, we will deal with the types where the rules can be applied directly.

Example (Limits via L’Hospital 1)

First, some commonly found application: find

There is . In addition, and are differentiable on , and there is . Since further

exists, there is by the theorem von L’Hospital

In general we do not write this down in such detail. We check the requirements in our heads and write down the result as follows:


With the rule of L'Hospital the limit value can be calculated within "one line". We would like to point out, however, that when applying the rule, we use the derivative

It was therefore precisely this limit value that was needed to calculate it. Since we assume that the derivatives of the basic functions are known once they have been calculated, this is not a problem.

Exercise (Limits via L’Hospital)

Determine the following limits:

Solution (Limits via L’Hospital)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Example (Limits via L’Hospital 2)

Next, we determine

There is . Since also the other conditions for the theorem of L'Hospital are fulfilled, there is

This limit value can be generalized for to

Exercise (Limits via L’Hospital 2)

Determine for the limit

Solution (Limits via L’Hospital 2)

There is

Sometimes it is also necessary to apply the rules of L'Hospital several times in a row before we reach the desired result.

Example (Limits via L’Hospital 3)

Next, we determine

There is . Using L’Hospital, we obtain

Now again, . Using L’Hospital again, we finally obtain

So all in all, there is

Exercise (Limits via L’Hospital 3)

Determine the limits

Solution (Limits via L’Hospital 3)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Type [Bearbeiten]

Here, the rules of L'Hospital are not directly applicable. The "trick" is therefore to create a fraction by forming reciprocal values, and thus to obtain a limit value in the standard form or .

Example (Limits via L’Hospital 4)

A standard example is the limit

There is and . We take the reciprocal value

Since there is , we can indeed apply L’Hospital and obtain


The following term shift

renders an expression . However, by applying the rule of L'Hospital,

This expression is now again of the type , but has a more complicated form than the original one. So the trick does not always lead to success!


For two arbitrary functions and with respective properties, the re-formulation trick reads:


Depending on which of the two forms is used, the limit value can then be calculated more easily.

Exercise (Limits via L’Hospital 4)


Solution (Limits via L’Hospital 4)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Type [Bearbeiten]

Next, we will deal with differences of limit values, both of which converge improperly towards . These are often differences of fractional terms. By forming the principal denominator and grouping them into a fractional term, the expression can often be transformed such that the rules of L'Hospital are applicable.

Example (Limits via L’Hospital 5)

Consider the limit

Here we have . So the limit value is of the described type . By forming the principal denominator we obtain

Since we are able to apply L’Hospital and obtain


For two arbitrary functions and , the re-formulation trick reads:

Exercise (Limits via L’Hospital 5)


Solution (Limits via L’Hospital 5)

Part 1: There is

Part 2: Here, we have

Types , , and [Bearbeiten]

If one of the cases described occurs, we use the trick we have already used in the calculation of derivative of generalized power functions: We first write as . Since is continuous on all of , the limit can be "pulled inside". The limit formed there is now very often of the kind and can be calculated as described above with the rules of L'Hopital.

Example (Limits via L’Hospital 6)

A common example is the limit

This is a limit of type . As described above we re-formulate it into

If we pull the limit into the exponential function, we get the limit value

This is of type . Above we calculated it as follows

Because of continuity of we hence get


The limit is the main reason for setting . It makes the function continuous at zero.


For two arbitrary functions and , the re-formulation trick reads:

Exercise (Limits via L’Hospital 6)

Compute the following limits

Solution (Limits via L’Hospital 6)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Some warnings[Bearbeiten]

However, it is not always useful to apply the rule of L'Hospital. In particular, it should not be applied if the conditions are not met. In this case, the hasty application of the rule may give a false result. We will discuss some warning examples to illustrate this.

L’Hospital proofs can get tedious - there are also other ways[Bearbeiten]

Growth of exponential and logarithm functions[Bearbeiten]

Let us consider the limit value

for and

This is of the type and L'Hospital is therefore applicable, which results in

The limit is now again of type . Repeating the rule, we obtain

When applying the rule of L'Hospital, we see the following pattern: the enumerator remains the same except for the pre-factor, but this does not change the divergence behaviour towards . In the denominator the power of decreases by one in every step. If we apply the rule of L'Hospital times, we hence get

But we could have achieved this result much faster and more elegantly. We have already shown above by only one application of L'Hospital

for all . So we get

since .


The limit value states that every exponential function grows faster than every power function, no matter how large the power is.

Exercise (Limits via L’Hospital 7)

Determine for and the limit


  1. -fold application of the rule of L'Hospital.
  2. One-fold application of the rule of L'Hospital and smart re-formulation.

Solution (Limits via L’Hospital 7)

Part 1: The limit value is of type and L'Hospital is applicable. There is

The limit value is again of the type , the power in the numerator decreases by one, that in the denominator remains the same. After -fold application of L'Hospital we obtain

Part 2: There is

for all . Hence

As .


The limit value says that the logarithmic function grows slower than any power function, no matter how small the power is.

Growth of polynomial functions[Bearbeiten]

Let us now consider the following limit value of a rational function for :

Here we have, because of the type , and by applying the rule of L'Hospital three times we obtain

Alternatively, the limit value can be calculated without L'Hospital by excluding and then shortening the highest power ():

If now in general and are normalized polynomials, then there is again

If we want to show this with the rule of L'Hospital, we have to apply it a total of times, and get

To calculate the limit without L'Hospital, we can again factor out the highest power, i.e. , and then calculate the limit value:

Exercise (Limits of rational functions)

Show for that

Solution (Limits of rational functions)

Fall 1:

1st way: without L’Hospital

We factor out the greatest power , and obtain

2nd way: with L’Hospital

We apply the rule of L'Hospital times, and get

Fall 2:

1st way: without L’Hospital

2nd way: with L’Hospital

Fall 3:

1st way: without L’Hospital

We factor out the greatest power , and obtain

2nd way: with L’Hospital

We apply the rule of L'Hospital times, and get

L’Hospital proof might fail[Bearbeiten]

In this section we will present some examples of limit values where the rule of L'Hospital "fails". This can happen because the rule of L'Hospital is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for the existence of the limit value .

infinite loops[Bearbeiten]

Sometimes the rule of L'Hospital can go in an "infinite loop". An example is

This limit is of the type , and L'Hospital is applicable. If we do so, we will obtain

The resulting limit value is now again of the type . If we look more closely, we see that the enumerator and denominator have been changed by the use of L'Hospital. If we now apply the rule again, the result is

The original limit value is therefore not changed. The rule of L'Hospital therefore does not help us with this limit value! The reason is that exponentials do not change under differentiation. However, there is a relatively simple way to reach the destination without L'Hospital:

If we factor out from the numerator and denominator, and then shorten it, we get

Exercise (Limits without L’Hospital 1)

Determine the limit

What is the problem in applying the rule of L'Hospital?

Solution (Limits without L’Hospital 1)

By factoring out in the denominator we obtain

The application of the rule of L'Hospital leads into an endless loop, because

L’Hospital makes divergence worse[Bearbeiten]

It may also happen that the use of L'Hospital actually "makes the situation worse". In other words, a limit value that exists can be transformed by applying the rule into a limit value that no longer exists. Therefore always note: From we get , but not vice versa. In particular, the fact that does not exist, does not imply that does not exist. Let us look at

There is . Therefore we have a type . Application of L'Hospital now renders

Now we have a problem because this limit value does not exist. Let us look at the sequences with

This certainly diverges to . However, there is

This limit value does not exist (not even improperly), since diverges. This means that L'Hospital is inapplicable here too. That the original limit value does exist can be seen from the following conversion trick: Because of there is

Exercise (Limits without L’Hospital 2)


What is the problem in applying the rule of L'Hospital?

Solution (Limits without L’Hospital 2)

First there is with a simple re-formulation trick

Further, on the one hand , which follows directly from the estimation . On the other hand , which we have shown with the rule of L'Hospital above.

In total we get

If we apply the rule of L'Hospital, which is allowed since the limit value is of the type , we obtain

This limit now diverges because the () expression for diverges. Namely, for the null sequence there is . So the application of L'Hospital was again unsuccessful!

L’Hospital may render a wrong result[Bearbeiten]

This can happen whenever the rule is applied although the conditions not are met. An example is

Look carefully, in this case converges towards , not ! Since enumerator and denominator are continuous in , there is

L'Hospital is not applicable in the case of . If you apply the rule anyway, you will get the false result

Therefore you should always check first whether the rule of L'Hospital is applicable or whether it is even necessary at all.

Exercise (Limits without 3)

Determine the limits

What are the limits resulting from the incorrect application of the L'Hospital rule?

Solution (Limits without 3)

Part 1: Inserting results in

Since the limit value is of the type , L'Hospital is not applicable. If we apply the rule anyway, we get the false result

Part 2: Since the limit value is of the type , we first use our standard re-formulation trick

For the expression in the exponent there is now . Because of the result is

In Exponent, L'Hospital is again not applicable. If we apply the rule anyway, we get

Because of the following false result follows

Implication: sufficient criterion for differentiability[Bearbeiten]

Theorem (Criterion for differentiability)

Let be an open interval and . Further let be continuous in and differentiable in . In addition, let there be . Then f is differentiable also at and there is .

Proof (Criterion for differentiability)

We have to show:

Now is and . Furthermore, and are differentiable for , and . With the rule of L'Hospital we obtain

Thus is differentiable at with .

Alternative proof (Criterion for differentiability)

We can also use the mean value theorem to show

Let for this be a sequence in with . Then according to the precondition for all is continuous on (or ) and differentiable on (or ). According to the mean value theorem there is for all a (or ) with

Since now and (or ), there is also . Because of it follows that . So we get

Since with was arbitrary, we obtain


A function that fulfils the criterion from the theorem is not only differentiable at the point . Because of the derivative function is even continuous in . Therefore the criterion is sufficient and not necessary for the differentiability in .

Question: Give an example of a differentiable function that does not satisfy the conditions of the theorem.

We are looking for a differentiable function whose derivative is not continuous at one point. An example (among many) is the function

It has at the derivative , but is not continuous there, as the limit

does not exist.

Exercise (Differentiability of the Si-function)


Show, without using the differential quotient, that is differentiable at zero and calculate the derivative .

Solution (Differentiability of the Si-function)

Step 1: is continuous at zero

By L’Hospital there is

So is continuous at zero.

Step 2: is differentiable on

Since and are differentiable on , the function is also differentiable there, by the quotient rule. Further there is for :

Step 3: is differentiable at zero

We use the criterion from the previous theorem. (Because of Step 1 and 2, it is applicable.) There is

According to the criterion, is differentiable at zero with .