In the book pattern recognition and machine learning (formula 1.27), it gives

$$p_y(y)=p_x(x) \left | \frac{d x}{d y} \right |=p_x(g(y)) | g'(y) |$$ where $x=g(y)$, $p_x(x)$ is the pdf that corresponds to $p_y(y)$ with respect to the change of the variable.

The books says it's because that observations falling in the range $(x, x + \delta x)$ will, for small values of $\delta x$, be transformed into the range $(y, y + \delta y)$.

How is this derived formally?

Update from Dilip Sarwate

The result holds only if $g$ is a strictly monotone increasing or decreasing function.

Some minor edit to L.V. Rao's answer $$ \begin{equation} P(Y\le y) = P(g(X)\le y)= \begin{cases} P(X\le g^{-1}(y)), & \text{if}\ g \text{ is monotonically increasing} \\ P(X\ge g^{-1}(y)), & \text{if}\ g \text{ is monotonically decreasing} \end{cases} \end{equation}$$ Therefore if $g$ is monotonically increasing $$F_{Y}(y)=F_{X}(g^{-1}(y))$$ $$f_{Y}(y)= f_{X}(g^{-1}(y))\cdot \frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)$$ if monotonically decreasing $$F_{Y}(y)=1-F_{X}(g^{-1}(y))$$ $$f_{Y}(y)=- f_{X}(g^{-1}(y))\cdot \frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)$$ $$\therefore f_{Y}(y) = f_{X}(g^{-1}(y)) \cdot \left | \frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y) \right |$$

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    $\begingroup$ The result holds only if $g$ is a strictly monotone increasing or decreasing function. Draw a graph of $g$ and puzzle it out using the basic idea behind the definition of the derivative (not the formal definition with epsilon and delta). Also, there is an answer by @whuber on this site which spells out the details; that is, this should be closed as a duplicate. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ Your book's explanation is reminiscent of the one I offered at stats.stackexchange.com/a/14490/919. I also posted a general algebraic method at stats.stackexchange.com/a/101298/919 and a geometric explanation at stats.stackexchange.com/a/4223/919. $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @DilipSarwate thanks for your explanation, I think I understand the intuition, but I'm more interested in how it can be derived using the existing rules and theorems :) $\endgroup$
    – dontloo
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 6:18

1 Answer 1


Suppose $X$ is a continuous random variable with pdf $f$. Let $Y=g(X)$, where $g$ is a monotonic function.

The function $g$ could be either monotonically increasing or monotonically decreasing. If $g$ were monotonically increasing, then the pdf of $Y$ is obtained as follows: \begin{eqnarray*} P(Y\le y) &=& P(g(X)\le y)\\ &=& P(X\le g^{-1}(y))\\ or\;\;F_{Y}(y)&=& F_{X}(g^{-1}(y)),\quad \mbox{by the definition of CDF}\\ \end{eqnarray*} If $g$ instead were monotonically decreasing, then we would have to swap the inequality signs, since $g^{-1}$ is also monotically decreasing (see here): \begin{eqnarray*} P(Y\le y) &=& P(g(X)\le y)\\ &=& P(X\ge g^{-1}(y))\\ or\;\;F_{Y}(y)&=& 1-F_{X}(g^{-1}(y)),\quad \mbox{by the definition of CDF}\\ \end{eqnarray*}

By differentiating the CDFs on both sides w.r.t. $y$ and using the chain rule, we get the pdf of $Y$. If the function $g$ is monotonically increasing, then the pdf of $Y$ is given by \begin{equation*} f_{Y}(y)= f_{X}(g^{-1}(y))\cdot \frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y) \end{equation*} and other hand, if it is monotonically decreasing, then the pdf of $Y$ is given by \begin{equation*} f_{Y}(y)= - f_{X}(g^{-1}(y))\cdot \frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y) \end{equation*} Since $\left|\frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)\right| = -\frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)$ if $\frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y) \le 0$ (which will be the case if $g$ is monotonically decreasing) and $\left|\frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)\right| = \frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)$ if $\frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)\ge 0$ (which will be the case if $g$ is monotonically increasing), then the above two equations can be combined into a single equation: \begin{equation*} \therefore f_{Y}(y) = f_{X}(g^{-1}(y))\cdot \left|\frac{d}{dy}g^{-1}(y)\right| \end{equation*}

  • $\begingroup$ But as the integral over fx must sum to 1 and fy is a scaled version of fx, doesn't that mean fy is not a proper pdf, unless the jacobian in the abs() is 1 or -1? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris The Jacobian of $g^{-1}$ is not necessarily a constant function, so it can be >1 in some places and <1 in others. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ I believe the above derivation is incorrect. When $g(.)$ is monotonically decreasing, $g(X) \le y \implies X \ge g^{-1}(y)$. The minus sign does not magically appear. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ The minus sign comes from the fact that the inequality is switched for monotonically decreasing transformations $\endgroup$
    – Sebastian
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ Where is the justification/explanation of the bit about monotonicity $\endgroup$
    – user3180
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 8:19

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