In mathematics, a rate is the ratio between two related quantities in different units. If the denominator of the ratio is expressed as a single unit of one of these quantities, and if it is assumed that this quantity can be changed systematically (i.e., is an independent variable), then the numerator of the ratio expresses the corresponding rate of change in the other (dependent) variable.
One common type of rate is "per unit of time", such as speed, heart rate and flux. Ratios that have a non-time denominator include exchange rates, literacy rates, and electric field (in volts per meter).
In describing the units of a rate, the word "per" is used to separate the units of the two measurements used to calculate the rate (for example a heart rate is expressed "beats per minute"). A rate defined using two numbers of the same units (such as tax rates) or counts (such as literacy rate) will result in a dimensionless quantity, which can be expressed as a percentage (for example, the global literacy rate in 1998 was 80%), fraction, or multiple.
Rates and ratios often vary with time, location, particular element (or subset) of a set of objects, etc. Thus they are often mathematical functions.
A rate (or ratio) may often be thought of as an output-input ratio, benefit-cost ratio, all considered in the broad sense. For example, miles per hour in transportation is the output (or benefit) in terms of miles of travel, which one gets from spending an hour (a cost in time) of traveling (at this velocity).
A set of sequential indices i may be used to enumerate elements (or subsets) of a set of ratios under study. For example, in finance, one could define i by assigning consecutive integers to companies, to political subdivisions (such as states), to different investments, etc. The reason for using indices i, is so a set of ratios (i=0,N) can be used in an equation so as to calculate a function of the rates such as an average of a set of ratios. For example, the average velocity found from the set of vi's mentioned above. Finding averages may involve using weighted averages and possibly using the harmonic mean.
A ratio r=a/b has both a numerator "a" and a denominator "b". The value of a and/or b may be a real number or integer. The inverse of a ratio r is 1/r = b/a. A rate may be equivalently expressed as an inverse of its value if the ratio of its units are also inverse. For example, 5 miles (mi) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) corresponds to 1/5 kWh/mi (or 200 Wh/mi).
Rates are relevant to many aspects of everyday life. For example: How fast are you driving? The speed of car (often expressed in miles per hour) is a rate. What interest does your savings account pay you? The amount of interest paid per year is a rate.
Consider the case where the numerator of a rate is a function where happens to be the denominator of the rate . A rate of change of with respect to (where is incremented by ) can be formally defined in two ways:
where f(x) is the function with respect to x over the interval from a to a+h. An instantaneous rate of change is equivalent to a derivative.
For example, the average speed of a car can be calculated using the total distance travelled between two points, divided by the travel time, while the instantaneous speed can be determined by viewing a speedometer.
In chemistry and physics: