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Inverses and Determinants


If A is square and nonsingular, the equations AX = I and XA = I have the same solution, X. This solution is called the inverse of A, is denoted by A-1, and is computed by the function inv.

The determinant of a matrix is useful in theoretical considerations and some types of symbolic computation, but its scaling and round-off error properties make it far less satisfactory for numeric computation. Nevertheless, the function det computes the determinant of a square matrix:

A = pascal(3)

A =
       1     1     1
       1     2     3
       1     3     6
d = det(A)
X = inv(A)

d =

X = 
       3    -3     1
      -3     5    -2
       1    -2     1

Again, because A is symmetric, has integer elements, and has determinant equal to one, so does its inverse. However,

B = magic(3)

B =
       8     1     6
       3     5     7
       4     9     2
d = det(B)
X = inv(B)

d =

X =
      0.1472   -0.1444    0.0639
     -0.0611    0.0222    0.1056
     -0.0194    0.1889   -0.1028

Closer examination of the elements of X, or use of format rat, would reveal that they are integers divided by 360.

If A is square and nonsingular, then, without round-off error, X = inv(A)*B is theoretically the same as X = A\B and Y = B*inv(A) is theoretically the same as Y = B/A. But the computations involving the backslash and slash operators are preferable because they require less computer time, less memory, and have better error-detection properties.


Rectangular matrices do not have inverses or determinants. At least one of the equations AX = I and XA = I does not have a solution. A partial replacement for the inverse is provided by the Moore-Penrose pseudoinverse, which is computed by the pinv function.

format short
C = [9 4
     2 8
     6 7];
X = pinv(C)

X =
    0.1159   -0.0729    0.0171
   -0.0534    0.1152    0.0418

The matrix

Q = X*C

Q =
    1.0000    0.0000
    0.0000    1.0000

is the 2-by-2 identity, but the matrix

P = C*X

P =
    0.8293   -0.1958    0.3213
   -0.1958    0.7754    0.3685
    0.3213    0.3685    0.3952

is not the 3-by-3 identity. However, P acts like an identity on a portion of the space in the sense that P is symmetric, P*C is equal to C, and X*P is equal to X.

Solving a Rank-Deficient System

If A is m-by-n with m > n and full rank n, each of the three statements

x = A\b
x = pinv(A)*b
x = inv(A'*A)*A'*b

theoretically computes the same least-squares solution x, although the backslash operator does it faster.

However, if A does not have full rank, the solution to the least-squares problem is not unique. There are many vectors x that minimize

norm(A*x -b)

The solution computed by x = A\b is a basic solution; it has at most r nonzero components, where r is the rank of A. The solution computed by x = pinv(A)*b is the minimal norm solution because it minimizes norm(x). An attempt to compute a solution with x = inv(A'*A)*A'*b fails because A'*A is singular.

Here is an example that illustrates the various solutions:

A = [ 1  2  3
      4  5  6
      7  8  9
     10 11 12 ];

does not have full rank. Its second column is the average of the first and third columns. If

b = A(:,2)

is the second column, then an obvious solution to A*x = b is x = [0 1 0]'. But none of the approaches computes that x. The backslash operator gives

x = A\b

Warning: Rank deficient, rank = 2, tol = 1.4594e-014.
x =

This solution has two nonzero components. The pseudoinverse approach gives

y = pinv(A)*b

y =

There is no warning about rank deficiency. But norm(y) = 0.5774 is less than norm(x) = 0.7071. Finally,

z = inv(A'*A)*A'*b

fails completely:

Warning: Matrix is close to singular or badly scaled.
         Results may be inaccurate. RCOND = 9.868649e-018. 
z =

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