We establish that a plane is determined by a point and a normal vector, and use this information to derive a general equation for planes in .

RRN-0030: Planes in

You are probably familiar with the expression “two points determine a line.” A line is also determined by one point and a vector parallel to the line. You are probably also familiar with the fact that three non-collinear points determine a plane (This is why photographers use tripods for stability, while four-legged chairs often wobble!) Is there another way to determine a plane?

It is evident geometrically that among all planes that are perpendicular to a given straight line there is exactly one containing any given point. The diagram below shows several planes perpendicular to vector . There are infinitely many such planes, but only one contains point .

Given a point and a nonzero vector , there is a unique plane through with normal .

This fact can be used to give a very simple description of a plane. Observe that a point lies on this plane if and only if the vector is orthogonal to —that is, if and only if .

Let . By “head-tail” formula (Formula form:headminustailr3 of VEC-0010), we have: . So, lies in the plane if and only if We summarize this result as a theorem.

As demonstrated in Example ex:planewithnormalvector, we can distribute coefficients , and of equation (eq:plane) as follows: Setting , shows that every plane with a normal vector has a linear equation of the form

for some constant . Conversely, the graph of this equation is a plane with as a normal vector (assuming that , , and are not all zero).

Practice Problems

Find an equation for each plane described below.
The plane has a normal vector and the plane passes through the point .


The plane contains the point and is parallel to the plane described by .


The plane contains the point and is parallel to the -plane.


How many planes satisfying each set of conditions are there?
Planes containing and with a normal vector .
0 1 Infinitely Many
Planes containing , , .
0 1 Infinitely Many
Planes containing , , .
0 1 Infinitely Many

Text Source

The text in this module is an adaptation of Section 4.2 of Keith Nicholson’s Linear Algebra with Applications. (CC-BY-NC-SA)

W. Keith Nicholson, Linear Algebra with Applications, Lyryx 2018, Open Edition, p 233-234.