Skip to content

    Cartesian Coordinate System

    A Cartesian coordinate system in two dimensions is commonly defined by two axes, at right angles to each other, forming a plane (an xy-plane). The horizontal axis is normally labeled x, and the vertical axis is normally labeled y. In a three dimensional coordinate system, another axis, normally labeled z, is added, providing a third dimension of space measurement. The axes are commonly defined as mutually orthogonal to each other (each at a right angle to the other).

    An illustration of the Cartesian coordinate system is provided below. The illustration contains four points: (2,3) in green, (3,1) in red, (1.5,2.5) in blue and (0,0), the origin, in yellow.

    The point of intersection, where the axes meet, is called the origin normally labeled O. The x and y axes define a plane that is referred to as the xy plane. Given each axis, choose a unit length, and mark off each unit along the axis, forming a grid. To specify a particular point on a two dimensional coordinate system, indicate the x unit first (abscissa), followed by the y unit (ordinate) in the form (x,y), an ordered pair.

    The intersection of the two axes creates four regions, called quadrants, indicated by the Roman numerals I (+,+), II (−,+), III (−,−), and IV (+,−). Conventionally, the quadrants are labeled counter-clockwise starting from the upper right ("northeast") quadrant. In the first quadrant, both coordinates are positive, in the second quadrant x-coordinates are negative and y-coordinates positive, in the third quadrant both coordinates are negative and in the fourth quadrant, x-coordinates are positive and y-coordinates negative.