How to Use xlim() and ylim() in R

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In this article, we will provide a comprehensive tutorial on how to use the xlim() and ylim() functions in R to control the limits of axes in your plots. These functions are widely used in data visualization to adjust the range of data shown on x-axis and y-axis, which is crucial for better understanding and interpretation of the data.

Basics of Plotting in R

R provides a variety of functions for plotting data, including plot(), hist(), boxplot(), and more. These functions generate a plot and the xlim() and ylim() functions can be used to control the limits of the axes of these plots.

Let’s use R’s built-in dataset ‘mtcars’ to illustrate these concepts. Suppose we want to create a scatter plot of car weights (wt) against miles per gallon (mpg). We would use the plot() function:

plot(mtcars$wt, mtcars$mpg)

In this command, mtcars$wt and mtcars$mpg represent the weight and miles per gallon columns of the ‘mtcars’ dataset, respectively.

Understanding xlim() and ylim()

The xlim() and ylim() functions in R allow you to control the range of values displayed on the x-axis and y-axis, respectively. They can be particularly useful when you want to zoom in on a specific part of the plot or if you want to ensure that multiple plots have the same range of axes for comparison purposes.

The xlim() function takes in a vector of two numbers, where the first number is the lower limit of the x-axis and the second number is the upper limit. Similarly, the ylim() function takes in two numbers, representing the lower and upper limits of the y-axis.

Using xlim() and ylim()

Suppose you want to zoom in on the plot we made earlier to only show cars that weigh between 2.5 and 5 tons, and have fuel efficiency between 15 and 30 miles per gallon. You could use the xlim() and ylim() functions as follows:

plot(mtcars$wt, mtcars$mpg, xlim=c(2.5, 5), ylim=c(15, 30))

Here, xlim=c(2.5, 5) sets the range of the x-axis to go from 2.5 to 5, and ylim=c(15, 30) sets the range of the y-axis to go from 15 to 30.

Using xlim() and ylim() with other Plot Types

The xlim() and ylim() functions work with many types of plots in R, not just scatter plots. For example, you can use these functions with a histogram:

hist(mtcars$mpg, xlim=c(10, 30))

In this code, xlim=c(10, 30) limits the x-axis of the histogram to show only the bins between 10 and 30.

You can also use xlim() and ylim() with box plots:

boxplot(mtcars$mpg ~ mtcars$cyl, ylim=c(10, 35))

Here, ylim=c(10, 35) limits the y-axis to show only the box plots between 10 and 35.


The xlim() and ylim() functions are versatile tools that can greatly improve the readability of your plots in R. By controlling the range of your axes, you can highlight the parts of your data that are most important to you, while also making sure that different plots are on the same scale for easy comparison. This can lead to better understanding and interpretation of your data.

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