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Mathematical statement that contains one or more derivatives. It states a relationship involving the rates of change of continuously changing quantities modeled by functions. Differential equations are very common in physics, engineering, and all fields involving quantitative study of change. They are used whenever a rate of change is known but the process giving rise to it is not. The solution of a differential equation is generally a function whose derivatives satisfy the equation. Differential equations are classified into several broad categories. The most important are ordinary differential equations (ODEs), in which change depends on a single variable, and partial differential equations (PDEs), in which change depends on several variables. See alsodifferentiation.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on differential equation, visit Britannica.com.