Curve that an idealized hanging chain or cable assumes

A catenary is a type of curve. An ideal chain hanging between two supports and acted on by a uniform gravitational force makes the shape of a catenary.[1] (An ideal chain is one that can bend perfectly, cannot be stretched and has the same density throughout.[2]) The supports can be at different heights and the shape will still be a catenary.[3] A catenary looks a bit like a parabola, but they are different.[4]

Plots of with . The variable is on the horizontal axis and is on the vertical axis.
A chain hanging like this forms the shape of a catenary approximately

The equation for a catenary in Cartesian coordinates is[2][5]

where is a parameter that determines the shape of the catenary[5] and is the hyperbolic cosine function, which is defined as[6]


Hence, we can also write the catenary equation as


The word "catenary" comes from the Latin word catena, which means "chain".[6] A catenary is also called called an alysoid and a chainette.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Catenary". Wolfram Research. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The Catenary - The "Chain" Curve". California State University. Archived from the original on 2017-06-30. Retrieved 2019-01-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  3. Rosbjerg, Bo. "Catenary" (PDF). Aalborg University. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  4. "Catenary and Parabola Comparison". Drexel University. Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Equation of Catenary". Archived from the original on 2016-10-21. Retrieved 2016-10-30.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Stroud, K. A.; Booth, Dexter J. (2013). Engineering Mathematics (7th ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. p. 438. ISBN 978-1-137-03120-4.