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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E.

Veitch

5.4 The Comparison Test

Goal: We want to compare a series (that’s usually complicated) to a series that is known
to be convergent or divergent. Let’s take a look a couple of easy examples. We want to
determine the convergence of

P 1
1.
n2 + 1

X 1 X 1
< which converges (p-series)
n2 + 1 n2
P 1
2. √
n · 5n

X 1 X 1
√ < which converges (geometric series)
n · 5n 5n

X 1
3.
126
3n1/3 − 15

X 1 X 1 1X 1
> = which diverges (p-series)
3n1/3 − 15 3n1/3 3 n1/3

In each of these examples, we compared our unknown series to a known series (geometric,
p-serires) which we knew converged or diverged. We call this method the Comparison
Tests.
P P
Definition 5.8 (The Comparison Test). Suppose an and bn are series with positive
terms such that 0 ≤ an ≤ bn for n ≥ N .

P P
1. If bn converges, then an also converges.
P P
2. If an diverges, then bn also diverges.

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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E. Veitch

P P P
Warning: If bn diverges, then we know nothing of the smaller series an . If an
P
converges, then we know nothing of the larger series bn . Please be careful when using the
Direct Comparison Test. Students violate this quite a bit.

So what makes this section difficult? It’s finding the known series that works. For exam-
ple, what would happen if I compared

X 1 X 1
and
n2 − 1 n2

P 1 P 1
Nothing! Since the first series 2
> , we know nothing of the convergence
n −1 n2
P 1
of . But don’t worry. We have another test that will deal with this problem later.
n2 − 1

So how can we find a sequence that works? Since the sequences have to go to 0,we focus
on the denominators. Remember, making a denominator smaller, makes the whole fraction
larger. For example,
X 5
Example 5.37.
3n4 + 5n + 2

First, you need to make a guess on its convergence. My guess is it converges. So the
5
next step is to find an easy convergent series whose sequence is larger than 4
.
3n + 5n + 2
To do this, we work with the denominator. To find a bigger sequence, we need to make the
denominator smaller.

3n4 + 5n + 2 > 3n4 > n4

So
5 5
< 4
3n4 + 5n + 2 n
P 5 P 5
Since 4
converges (p-test), by the Direct Comparison Test, so does 4
.
n 3n + 5n + 2
By the way, I did not check the to see if the sequence satisfies the conditions to the Direct

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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E. Veitch

Comparison Test. Again, at this point, some of these should be obvious.

X (ln n)2
Example 5.38.
n
This one isn’t as obvious. Fist, we need to make sure it converges to 0.

1
(ln n)2 LH 2(ln n) · n
lim = lim
n→∞ n n→∞ 1
2 ln n
= lim
n→∞ n
LH 2 · 1
n
= lim
n→∞ 1
2
= lim
n→∞ n

= 0

(ln n)2
Next, let’s just verify that an = is decreasing. To show a function is decreasing,
n
(ln n)2
we show its derivative is negative. Let f (n) =
n

1
n · 2(ln n) · − (ln n)2 · 1 2 ln n − (ln n)2 ln n(2 − ln(n))
f 0 (n) = n
= = <0
n2 n 2 n2
for larger values of n.

(ln n)2
Now let’s find a sequence that we can compare to .
n

(ln n)2 1
>
n n

X1 X 1 X (ln n)2
Since diverges and < , the Direct Comparison Test concludes
n n n

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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E. Veitch

X (ln n)2
diverges
n

Even though the Direct Comparison Test is nice, the following test will help when an
easy comparison can’t be made.

Definition 5.9 (Limit Comparison Test). Suppose an and bn are positive sequences. Assume
the following limit exists

an
L = lim
n→∞ bn

P
1. If L > 0 and is finite, then either both an and bn converge or they both diverge.
P P
2. If L = ∞ and an converges, then bn converges.
P P
3. If L = 0 and bn converges, then an converges.

Example 5.39. The following series could not be shown to converge through an obvious
Direct Comparison Test

1X
−1 5n
1 1 X 1
though I suppose you can show n < n and since converges, so does
5 −1 4 4n
X 1
. The problem is you have to prove that comparison and that can be time con-
5n − 1
suming. Instead let’s use the Limit Comparison Test.

1 1
Let an = and bn = n .
5n −1 5

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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E. Veitch

1
an n 5n 1
lim = lim 5 1−1 = lim n = lim =1
n→∞ bn n→∞ n→∞ 5 − 1 n→∞ 1 − 1n
5n 5
X 1
Since the limit is finite and converges, the Limit Comparison Test concludes
5n

X 1
converges
5n −1
Example 5.40. Determine the convergence or divergence of

X
sin(1/n)
1 1 X1
Since we see , we might as well try comparing sin(1/n) to . Note that diverges.
n n n

sin(1/n) LH cos(1/n) · −1/n2


lim = lim = lim cos(1/n) = cos(0) = 1
n→∞ 1/n n→∞ −1/n2 n→∞

Since the limit value is finite and greater than 0, the Limit Comparison Test concludes

X
sin(1/n) diverges
X
Example 5.41. If an > 0 and an is convergent, show

X
ln(1 + an ) converges

They gave us information about an , let’s try using the Limit Comparison Test with
ln(1 + an ).

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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E. Veitch

ln(1 + an )
lim
n→∞ an
Note that as n → ∞ both sequences converge to 0. So this is a L’Hospital Problem.
Instead of using an , let f (n) = an . Also note lim f (n) = 0
n→∞

ln(1 + f (n)) LH
1
1+f (n)
· f 0 (n) 1
lim = lim = lim =1
n→∞ f (n) n→∞ f 0 (n) n→∞ 1 + f (n)

By the Limit Comparison Test

X
ln(1 + an ) converges
X n!
Example 5.42. Show converges.
nn

n!
The trick here is to find a direct comparison to the sequence an = .
nn

n! 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · . . . · (n − 2) · (n − 1) · n
n
=
n n · n · n · n · n · n... · n · n · n
 
2  3 · 4 · 5 · . . . · (n − 1) · n 

= 2
n 
|n n n {z n n}
multiplies to less than 1

2

n2

n! X 1
We now have a direct comparison to the sequence an = . Since converges, by
nn n2
the Direct Comparison Test

X n!
converges
nn

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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E. Veitch

Example 5.43. Determine if the following series converges

X 3n + 5
n(n − 1)(n − 2)

Note the degree on top is 1 and the degree on the bottom is 3. The difference is 2. So
1
let’s compare our sequence to bn = 2 .
n

3n+5
n(n−1)(n−2) 3n3 + 5n2 3n3
lim 1 = lim ≈ lim 3 = 3
n→∞ n→∞ n(n − 1)(n − 2) n→∞ n
n2
X 1
Since L = 3 > 0 and , the Limit Comparison Test concludes
n2
X 3n + 5
converges
n(n − 1)(n − 2)
Example 5.44. Determine if the following series converges

X n

n3 − n
Note that

n n 1
√ ≈ 3/2 = 1/2
n3 − n n n
X 1
and we know diverges (p-series test). Let’s use the Limit Comparison Test.
n1/2

√ n
3 n3/2 n3/2
lim n1−n = lim √ ≈ lim 3/2 = 1
n→∞
n1/2
n→∞ n3 − n n→∞ n

X 1
Since L = 1 > 0 and diverges,
n1/2

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5.4 The Comparison Test Brian E. Veitch

X n
√ diverges
3
n −n
X 3
Example 5.45. Determine if converges.
n! + 6n
Let’s do a direct comparison.

3 3
n
< n
3! + 6 6
X 3 X 1  1 n
Since = converges (geometric), the direct comparison test concludes
6n 3 6
X 1
converges
n! + 6n
X 1
Example 5.46. Determine if √ converges.
n + ln n

1
Let’s try a limit comparison with √ .
n

√ 1

n+ln n n
lim = lim √
n→∞ √1 n→∞ n + ln n
n


This is a L’Hospital Problem with the type .

1

2 n 1
lim 1 1 = lim √
2 n
=1
n→∞ √
2 n
+ n
n→∞ 1+ n


That last step I multiplied top and bottom by 2 n.

X 1 X 1
Since the limit exists, is finite, and greater than 0, and √ diverges, so does √
n n + ln n

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