Finite group

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In abstract algebra, a finite group is a group whose underlying set is finite. Finite groups often arise when considering symmetry of mathematical or physical objects, when those objects admit just a finite number of structure-preserving transformations. Important examples of finite groups include cyclic groups and permutation groups.


The study of finite groups has been an integral part of group theory since it arose in the 19th century. One major area of study has been classification: the classification of finite simple groups (those with no nontrivial normal subgroup) was completed in 2004.


During the twentieth century, mathematicians investigated some aspects of the theory of finite groups in great depth, especially the local theory of finite groups and the theory of solvable and nilpotent groups. [1] [2] As a consequence, the complete classification of finite simple groups was achieved, meaning that all those simple groups from which all finite groups can be built are now known.

During the second half of the twentieth century, mathematicians such as Chevalley and Steinberg also increased our understanding of finite analogs of classical groups, and other related groups. One such family of groups is the family of general linear groups over finite fields.

Finite groups often occur when considering symmetry of mathematical or physical objects, when those objects admit just a finite number of structure-preserving transformations. The theory of Lie groups, which may be viewed as dealing with "continuous symmetry", is strongly influenced by the associated Weyl groups. These are finite groups generated by reflections which act on a finite-dimensional Euclidean space. The properties of finite groups can thus play a role in subjects such as theoretical physics and chemistry. [3]


Permutation groups

A Cayley graph of the symmetric group S4 Symmetric group 4; Cayley graph 4,9.svg
A Cayley graph of the symmetric group S4

The symmetric group Sn on a finite set of n symbols is the group whose elements are all the permutations of the n symbols, and whose group operation is the composition of such permutations, which are treated as bijective functions from the set of symbols to itself. [4] Since there are n! (n factorial) possible permutations of a set of n symbols, it follows that the order (the number of elements) of the symmetric group Sn is n!.

Cyclic groups

A cyclic group Zn is a group all of whose elements are powers of a particular element a where an = a0 = e, the identity. A typical realization of this group is as the complex nth roots of unity. Sending a to a primitive root of unity gives an isomorphism between the two. This can be done with any finite cyclic group.

Finite abelian groups

An abelian group , also called a commutative group, is a group in which the result of applying the group operation to two group elements does not depend on their order (the axiom of commutativity). They are named after Niels Henrik Abel. [5]

An arbitrary finite abelian group is isomorphic to a direct sum of finite cyclic groups of prime power order, and these orders are uniquely determined, forming a complete system of invariants. The automorphism group of a finite abelian group can be described directly in terms of these invariants. The theory had been first developed in the 1879 paper of Georg Frobenius and Ludwig Stickelberger and later was both simplified and generalized to finitely generated modules over a principal ideal domain, forming an important chapter of linear algebra.

Groups of Lie type

A group of Lie type is a group closely related to the group G(k) of rational points of a reductive linear algebraic group G with values in the field k. Finite groups of Lie type give the bulk of nonabelian finite simple groups. Special cases include the classical groups, the Chevalley groups, the Steinberg groups, and the Suzuki–Ree groups.

Finite groups of Lie type were among the first groups to be considered in mathematics, after cyclic, symmetric and alternating groups, with the projective special linear groups over prime finite fields, PSL(2, p) being constructed by Évariste Galois in the 1830s. The systematic exploration of finite groups of Lie type started with Camille Jordan's theorem that the projective special linear group PSL(2, q) is simple for q ≠ 2, 3. This theorem generalizes to projective groups of higher dimensions and gives an important infinite family PSL(n, q) of finite simple groups. Other classical groups were studied by Leonard Dickson in the beginning of 20th century. In the 1950s Claude Chevalley realized that after an appropriate reformulation, many theorems about semisimple Lie groups admit analogues for algebraic groups over an arbitrary field k, leading to construction of what are now called Chevalley groups. Moreover, as in the case of compact simple Lie groups, the corresponding groups turned out to be almost simple as abstract groups (Tits simplicity theorem). Although it was known since 19th century that other finite simple groups exist (for example, Mathieu groups), gradually a belief formed that nearly all finite simple groups can be accounted for by appropriate extensions of Chevalley's construction, together with cyclic and alternating groups. Moreover, the exceptions, the sporadic groups, share many properties with the finite groups of Lie type, and in particular, can be constructed and characterized based on their geometry in the sense of Tits.

The belief has now become a theorem – the classification of finite simple groups. Inspection of the list of finite simple groups shows that groups of Lie type over a finite field include all the finite simple groups other than the cyclic groups, the alternating groups, the Tits group, and the 26 sporadic simple groups.

Main theorems

Lagrange's theorem

For any finite group G, the order (number of elements) of every subgroup H of G divides the order of G. The theorem is named after Joseph-Louis Lagrange.

Sylow theorems

This provides a partial converse to Lagrange's theorem giving information about how many subgroups of a given order are contained in G.

Cayley's theorem

Cayley's theorem, named in honour of Arthur Cayley, states that every group G is isomorphic to a subgroup of the symmetric group acting on G. [6] This can be understood as an example of the group action of G on the elements of G. [7]

Burnside's theorem

Burnside's theorem in group theory states that if G is a finite group of order paqb, where p and q are prime numbers, and a and b are non-negative integers, then G is solvable. Hence each non-Abelian finite simple group has order divisible by at least three distinct primes.

Feit–Thompson theorem

The Feit–Thompson theorem, or odd order theorem, states that every finite group of odd order is solvable. It was proved by WalterFeit and John Griggs Thompson  ( 1962 , 1963 )

Classification of finite simple groups

The classification of finite simple groups is a theorem stating that every finite simple group belongs to one of the following families:

The finite simple groups can be seen as the basic building blocks of all finite groups, in a way reminiscent of the way the prime numbers are the basic building blocks of the natural numbers. The Jordan–Hölder theorem is a more precise way of stating this fact about finite groups. However, a significant difference with respect to the case of integer factorization is that such "building blocks" do not necessarily determine uniquely a group, since there might be many non-isomorphic groups with the same composition series or, put in another way, the extension problem does not have a unique solution.

The proof of the theorem consists of tens of thousands of pages in several hundred journal articles written by about 100 authors, published mostly between 1955 and 2004. Gorenstein (d.1992), Lyons, and Solomon are gradually publishing a simplified and revised version of the proof.

Number of groups of a given order

Given a positive integer n, it is not at all a routine matter to determine how many isomorphism types of groups of order n there are. Every group of prime order is cyclic, because Lagrange's theorem implies that the cyclic subgroup generated by any of its non-identity elements is the whole group. If n is the square of a prime, then there are exactly two possible isomorphism types of group of order n, both of which are abelian. If n is a higher power of a prime, then results of Graham Higman and Charles Sims give asymptotically correct estimates for the number of isomorphism types of groups of order n, and the number grows very rapidly as the power increases.

Depending on the prime factorization of n, some restrictions may be placed on the structure of groups of order n, as a consequence, for example, of results such as the Sylow theorems. For example, every group of order pq is cyclic when q < p are primes with p − 1 not divisible by q. For a necessary and sufficient condition, see cyclic number.

If n is squarefree, then any group of order n is solvable. Burnside's theorem, proved using group characters, states that every group of order n is solvable when n is divisible by fewer than three distinct primes, i.e. if n = paqb, where p and q are prime numbers, and a and b are non-negative integers. By the Feit–Thompson theorem, which has a long and complicated proof, every group of order n is solvable when n is odd.

For every positive integer n, most groups of order n are solvable. To see this for any particular order is usually not difficult (for example, there is, up to isomorphism, one non-solvable group and 12 solvable groups of order 60) but the proof of this for all orders uses the classification of finite simple groups. For any positive integer n there are at most two simple groups of order n, and there are infinitely many positive integers n for which there are two non-isomorphic simple groups of order n.

Table of distinct groups of order n

Order n# Groups [8] AbelianNon-Abelian

See also

Related Research Articles

Abelian group Commutative group (mathematics)

In mathematics, an abelian group, also called a commutative group, is a group in which the result of applying the group operation to two group elements does not depend on the order in which they are written. That is, the group operation is commutative. With addition as an operation, the integers and the real numbers form abelian groups, and the concept of an abelian group may be viewed as a generalization of these examples. Abelian groups are named after early 19th century mathematician Niels Henrik Abel.

Group (mathematics) Algebraic structure with one binary operation

In mathematics, a group is a set equipped with a binary operation that combines any two elements to form a third element in such a way that four conditions called group axioms are satisfied, namely closure, associativity, identity and invertibility. One of the most familiar examples of a group is the set of integers together with the addition operation, but groups are encountered in numerous areas within and outside mathematics, and help focusing on essential structural aspects, by detaching them from the concrete nature of the subject of the study.

<span class="texhtml mvar" style="font-style:italic;">p</span>-group

In mathematics, specifically group theory, given a prime number p, a p-group is a group in which the order of every element is a power of p. That is, for each element g of a p-group G, there exists a nonnegative integer n such that the product of pn copies of g, and not fewer, is equal to the identity element. The orders of different elements may be different powers of p.

Simple group group without normal subgroups other than the trivial group and itself

In mathematics, a simple group is a nontrivial group whose only normal subgroups are the trivial group and the group itself. A group that is not simple can be broken into two smaller groups, namely a nontrivial normal subgroup and the corresponding quotient group. This process can be repeated, and for finite groups one eventually arrives at uniquely determined simple groups, by the Jordan–Hölder theorem.

Cyclic group mathematical group that can be generated as the set of powers of a single element

In group theory, a branch of abstract algebra, a cyclic group or monogenous group is a group that is generated by a single element. That is, it is a set of invertible elements with a single associative binary operation, and it contains an element g such that every other element of the group may be obtained by repeatedly applying the group operation to g or its inverse. Each element can be written as a power of g in multiplicative notation, or as a multiple of g in additive notation. This element g is called a generator of the group.

Sylow theorems Theorems that help decompose a finite group based on prime factors of its order

In mathematics, specifically in the field of finite group theory, the Sylow theorems are a collection of theorems named after the Norwegian mathematician Peter Ludwig Sylow (1872) that give detailed information about the number of subgroups of fixed order that a given finite group contains. The Sylow theorems form a fundamental part of finite group theory and have very important applications in the classification of finite simple groups.

In abstract algebra, an abelian group (G, +) is called finitely generated if there exist finitely many elements x1, ..., xs in G such that every x in G can be written in the form

Solvable group group that can be constructed from abelian groups using extensions; a group whose derived series terminates in the trivial subgroup

In mathematics, more specifically in the field of group theory, a solvable group or soluble group is a group that can be constructed from abelian groups using extensions. Equivalently, a solvable group is a group whose derived series terminates in the trivial subgroup.

Linear algebraic group subgroup of the group of invertible n×n matrices

In mathematics, a linear algebraic group is a subgroup of the group of invertible n×n matrices that is defined by polynomial equations. An example is the orthogonal group, defined by the relation MTM = 1 where MT is the transpose of M.

In abstract algebra, a module is indecomposable if it is non-zero and cannot be written as a direct sum of two non-zero submodules.

Reductive group linear algebraic group over a field such that, after base change to its algebraic closure, every smooth connected solvable normal subgroup is trivial

In mathematics, a reductive group is a type of linear algebraic group over a field. One definition is that a connected linear algebraic group G over a perfect field is reductive if it has a representation with finite kernel which is a direct sum of irreducible representations. Reductive groups include some of the most important groups in mathematics, such as the general linear group GL(n) of invertible matrices, the special orthogonal group SO(n), and the symplectic group Sp(2n). Simple algebraic groups and semisimple algebraic groups are reductive.

Group of Lie type

In mathematics, specifically in group theory, the phrase group of Lie type usually refers to finite groups that are closely related to the group of rational points of a reductive linear algebraic group with values in a finite field. The phrase group of Lie type does not have a widely accepted precise definition, but the important collection of finite simple groups of Lie type does have a precise definition, and they make up most of the groups in the classification of finite simple groups.

Frobenius group

In mathematics, a Frobenius group is a transitive permutation group on a finite set, such that no non-trivial element fixes more than one point and some non-trivial element fixes a point. They are named after F. G. Frobenius.

In mathematics, a Ree group is a group of Lie type over a finite field constructed by Ree from an exceptional automorphism of a Dynkin diagram that reverses the direction of the multiple bonds, generalizing the Suzuki groups found by Suzuki using a different method. They were the last of the infinite families of finite simple groups to be discovered.

In mathematics, a class formation is a topological group acting on a module satisfying certain conditions. Class formations were introduced by Emil Artin and John Tate to organize the various Galois groups and modules that appear in class field theory.

In mathematics, more specifically abstract algebra, a finite ring is a ring that has a finite number of elements. Every finite field is an example of a finite ring, and the additive part of every finite ring is an example of an abelian finite group, but the concept of finite rings in their own right has a more recent history.


  1. Aschbacher, Michael (2004). "The Status of the Classification of the Finite Simple Groups" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society . 51 (7). pp. 736–740.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. Daniel Gorenstein (1985), "The Enormous Theorem", Scientific American, December 1, 1985, vol. 253, no. 6, pp. 104–115.
  3. Group Theory and its Application to Chemistry The Chemistry LibreTexts library
  4. Jacobson 2009 , p. 31
  5. Jacobson 2009 , p. 41
  6. Jacobson 2009 , p. 38
  7. Jacobson 2009 , p. 72, ex. 1
  8. Humphreys, John F. (1996). A Course in Group Theory. Oxford University Press. pp. 238–242. ISBN   0198534590. Zbl   0843.20001.

Further reading