Calculus How To

Fourth Derivative (Jounce or Snap)

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Calculus Derivatives >

You may want to read this article first: What is a Third Derivative?

Simply put, the fourth derivative is when you take the derivative of a function four times. In other words:

The fourth derivative of the position function is called jounce or snap. It tells us the rate of change of the jerk (3rd derivative) with respect to time.

fourth derivative


The fourth derivative (f′′′(x))′) is defined by the following notations:

  • y′′′′
  • (f′′′(x))′)
  • f(4)(x)

Adding primes (′) starts to look a little messy, so most people prefer to use the shortened (f(4)(x)) notation. Be careful to place parentheses around the exponent, because f4 (without parentheses) is exponentiation, not differentiation.


Find the fourth derivative of the function:

f(x) = x4 – 5x2 + 12x – 3

Solve using the power rule four times to differentiate exponents.

  1. f′(x) = 4x3 – 10x + 12
  2. f′′(x) = 12x2 – 10
  3. f′′′(x) = 24x
  4. f(4)(x) = 24

In theory it is possible to continue taking derivatives up to an infinite level, to go far beyond the jounce or snap. However, with many equations it will only be possible to go up to the fourth, fifth or possibly the sixth derivatives. If I had continued to the fifth derivative in the example above I would have arrived at zero. Continuing to the sixth and successive derivatives the would have also resulted in 0.

Uses for the Fourth Derivative

The fourth derivative is useful (at least, from a theoretical standpoint) in understanding velocity and acceleration.  Velocity is the rate at which an object is traveling plus its direction, and acceleration is the rate of change in velocity.  The fourth derivative (jounce) tells us the rate of change in the “jerk” part of acceleration— those moments when the acceleration suddenly speeds up (like a lift ascending quickly) or slows down. 

Velocity starts at zero and increases from there.  In other words, velocity does not suddenly switch on—it’s the result of acceleration.  Likewise, acceleration also grows from zero and doesn’t appear out of nowhere.  Therefore, in order for there to be a change in the rate of acceleration there must be jounce.  Without calculating the fourth derivative we would be unable to fully understand this process (nor would it be possible for engineers to calculate the safe speeds and elevations at which to operate your favorite amusement park rides!).

Stephanie Glen. "Fourth Derivative (Jounce or Snap)" From Calculus for the rest of us!

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