Finding an Angle in a Right Angled Triangle

Angle from Any Two Sides

We can find an unknown angle in a right-angled triangle, as long as we know the lengths of two of its sides.

ladder against wall


The ladder leans against a wall as shown.

What is the angle between the ladder and the wall?


The answer is to use Sine, Cosine or Tangent!

But which one to use? We have a special phrase "SOHCAHTOA" to help us, and we use it like this:

Step 1: find the names of the two sides we know

triangle showing Opposite, Adjacent and Hypotenuse

Example: in our ladder example we know the length of:

Step 2: now use the first letters of those two sides (Opposite and Hypotenuse) and the phrase "SOHCAHTOA" to find which one of Sine, Cosine or Tangent to use:

Sine: sin(θ) = Opposite / Hypotenuse
Cosine: cos(θ) = Adjacent / Hypotenuse
Tangent: tan(θ) = Opposite / Adjacent

In our example that is Opposite and Hypotenuse, and that gives us “SOHcahtoa”, which tells us we need to use Sine.

Step 3: Put our values into the Sine equation:

Sin (x) = Opposite / Hypotenuse = 2.5 / 5 = 0.5

Step 4: Now solve that equation!

sin(x) = 0.5

Next (trust me for the moment) we can re-arrange that into this:

x = sin-1(0.5)

And then get our calculator, key in 0.5 and use the sin-1 button to get the answer:

x = 30°

And we have our answer!

But what is the meaning of sin-1 … ?

Well, the Sine function "sin" takes an angle and gives us the ratio "opposite/hypotenuse",

sin vs sin-1

But sin-1 (called "inverse sine") goes the other way ...
... it takes the ratio "opposite/hypotenuse" and gives us an angle.



calculator-sin-cos-tan On the calculator press one of the following (depending
on your brand of calculator): either '2ndF sin' or 'shift sin'.

On your calculator, try using sin and sin-1 to see what results you get!

Also try cos and cos-1. And tan and tan-1.
Go on, have a try now.

Step By Step

These are the four steps we need to follow:


Let’s look at a couple more examples:

trig example airplane 400, 300


Find the angle of elevation of the plane from point A on the ground.

Tan x° = opposite/adjacent = 300/400 = 0.75

tan-1 of 0.75 = 36.9° (correct to 1 decimal place)

Unless you’re told otherwise, angles are usually rounded to one place of decimals.

trig example


Find the size of angle a°

cos a° = 6,750/8,100 = 0.8333

cos-1 of 0.8333 = 33.6° (to 1 decimal place)