The equation of a circle can be found from the coordinates of its centre and its radius.


Consider this circle whose centre is at the point (a,b) and whose radius is r. The equation of the circle is given by

(x-a)^2+(y-b)^2=r^2.

The values of a, b and r are specified whereas x and y are left as general points. This is much like when we specify m and c in y=mx+c when we have the equation of a given straight line.


equation of a circle

Things to Learn for Circle Equation questions:

circle propertiesYou should know the following facts:

  1. Most importantly, the equation of a circle.
  2. Secondly, that the angle subtended from a diameter at the circumference is a right angle.
  3. Next, the radius and tangent touch at right angles to one another.
  4.  Finally, a perpendicular from a chord bisects the chord.

You should be able to find the equation of a circle:

  1. using completing the square and/or Pythagoras,
  2. given a triangle that has all three points on its circumference and
  3. find the equation of a tangent using perpendicular gradients.

Equation of a Circle Examples


Example 1

  1. The centre of a circle is given by (2,-5) and its radius is the square root of 11. Write down the equation of the circle.
  2. Find the equation of the circle given that the centre is at (1,2) and the point (3,5) lies on the circle.
  3. Find the equation of the tangent to the circle (x-4)^2+(y-1)^2=10 at the point (3,4).

Draw your own sketches to help you with these questions.


Example 2

The equation of a circle is given by
x^2+6x+y^2-4x+9=0.

  1. Find the centre and the radius of the circle.
  2. Find all points on the circle with x-coordinate -4.

Draw your own sketches to help you with these questions.



The equation of a circle is derived from an application of Pythagoras Theorem. Specifically, the longest side squared is equal to the sum of the squares of the shorter sides. Evidently, the longest side is the radius. If we pick a point on the circle (x,y), we see that the shorter sides have lengths x-a and y-b. It follows that (x-a)^2+(y-b)^2=r^2.

The equation of a circle is implicit rather than explicit. This means that the xs and ys are mixed up. Conversely, an equation is explicit if y is the subject, for example.

You may be presented with questions that expect you to know the equation of a circle. Other questions might bring in knowledge from other areas of maths such as finding mid-points. In more complicated questions you may even be asked to find gradients using the knowledge that a tangent to a circle is perpendicular to its radius.


More Circle Examples


Example 3

The three points (1,-2), (4,5) and (5,x) lie on the circumference of a circle. The points (1,-2) and (4,5) are at either end of the diameter. Find the exact value of x.



Example 4

The chord that joins the circumferential points (x,-4) and (-2,-2) bisects the diameter of the circle whose centre is at \left(1,-\frac{5}{2}\right). Find the value of x.



Circles Board Question 1




Circles Board Question 2


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