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The Determinant of a Square Matrix

Determinant of a 3 × 3 MatrixDeterminant of a 4 × 4 Matrix

Determinants develop from number patterns that emerge when solving systems of linear equations. Every square matrix can be associated with a negative, positive or zero real number determinant. The use of a determinant is algorithmic rather than mathematical and is important to solve for variable quantities of linear equation systems by Cramer’s Rule.

Minors and Cofactors of a Square Matrix

The reason for introducing minors and cofactors of a square matrix is to develop a constructive foundation necessary to create a matrix determinant.

The minor, Mij, of the entry aij is the determinant of the matrix. It is obtained by deleting the j th row and the i th column of A.

The cofactor Cij of entry aij is:

Cij = (-1) i + j Mij

Cofactors have a sign pattern:

The sign pattern begins as a “+” top left and then alternates as “−/+” thereafter for each element of the row. The next row beneath the first begins with a “−”, and then alternates “+/−”. The alternating pattern continues for the entire matrix.

Matrix Cofactor Sign Pattern

4×4

C1

C2

C3

C4

R1:

+

+

R2:

+

+

R3:

+

+

R4:

+

+

Finding the Minors and
Cofactors of a Matrix

To find the minors and cofactors (we’ll visually present the first two minors so you can easily understand the process):

The first minor M11

3×3

Column 1

Column 2

Column 3

Row 1:

0+

2-

1+

Row 2:

3-

-1+

2-

Row 3:

4+

0-

1+

Matrix A

(Diagonal multiplication and then product subtraction)

=

-1(1) – 0(2) = -1

-1

2

0

1

M11

The second minor M12

3×3

Column 1

Column 2

Column 3

Row 1:

0+

2-

1+

Row 2:

3-

-1+

2-

Row 3:

4+

0-

1+

Matrix A

=

3(1) – 4(2) = -5

3

2

4

1

M12

The remaining minors are determined using the same rule-based process …

M11 = -1

M21 = 2

M31 = 5

M12 = -5

M22 = -4

M32 = -3

M13 = 4

M23 = -8

M33 = -6

Then, to find the cofactors, apply the matrix cofactor sign pattern to the minors …

C11 = -1

C21 = -2

C13 = 5

C12 = 5

C22 = -4

C32 = 3

C13 = 4

C23 = 8

C33 = -6

Expanding by Cofactors to
Find the Matrix Determinant

For any matrix of order 2 × 2 or greater the determinant is the sum of the elements in any row or column multiplied by their respective cofactors:

det(A) = a11C11 + a12C12 + . . . + a1nC1n

By this definition, to find the determinant of A:

3×3

Column 1

Column 2

Column 3

Row 1:

0+

2-

1+

Row 2:

3-

-1+

2-

Row 3:

4+

0-

1+

Matrix A

We can choose row 1 with array elements 0, 2, 1, multiply each element by its cofactor and then sum the products of the multiplication (a row or column with the most zeros):

det(A) = 0(-1) + 2(5) + 1(4) = 14

Or, we could choose column 2 with array elements 2, 1, 0:

det(A) = 2(5) + -1(-4) + 0(3) = 14

The determinant of matrix A is 14.

Now you see the role minors and cofactors play in determining a matrix determinant and how to produce the determinant. However, because it is important to understand how to find a determinant the following information provides matrices of order 1 × 1 and 2 × 2, each with a detailed description of the process for finding their determinant.

Determinant of a 1 × 1 Matrix

The determinant of a matrix with order 1 × 1 is the entry of the matrix, the array element value: Matrix A = [-5] then det(A) = -5

Determinant of a 2 × 2 Matrix

The determinant of a 2 × 2 matrix is produced by subtracting after diagonal multiplication of array elements. It is the matrix formula and only works for a 2 × 2 matrix.

a1

b1

a2

b2

Matrix A

det(A) = a1b2 – a2b1

0

½

2

4

Matrix B

det(B) = 0 – 1 = -1

How to find the determinant of a 3 × 3 or 4 × 4 matrix can be found by clicking on tabs near the top of this page.