Singleton (mathematics)

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In mathematics, a singleton, also known as a unit set, [1] is a set with exactly one element. For example, the set {null} is a singleton containing the element null.


The term is also used for a 1-tuple (a sequence with one member).


Within the framework of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory, the axiom of regularity guarantees that no set is an element of itself. This implies that a singleton is necessarily distinct from the element it contains, [1] thus 1 and {1} are not the same thing, and the empty set is distinct from the set containing only the empty set. A set such as {{1, 2, 3}} is a singleton as it contains a single element (which itself is a set, however, not a singleton).

A set is a singleton if and only if its cardinality is 1. In von Neumann's set-theoretic construction of the natural numbers, the number 1 is defined as the singleton {0}.

In axiomatic set theory, the existence of singletons is a consequence of the axiom of pairing: for any set A, the axiom applied to A and A asserts the existence of {A, A}, which is the same as the singleton {A} (since it contains A, and no other set, as an element).

If A is any set and S is any singleton, then there exists precisely one function from A to S, the function sending every element of A to the single element of S. Thus every singleton is a terminal object in the category of sets.

A singleton has the property that every function from it to any arbitrary set is injective. The only non-singleton set with this property is the empty set.

The Bell number integer sequence counts the number of partitions of a set ( OEIS:  A000110 ), if singletons are excluded then the numbers are smaller ( OEIS:  A000296 ).

In category theory

Structures built on singletons often serve as terminal objects or zero objects of various categories:

Definition by indicator functions

Let S be a class defined by an indicator function

Then S is called a singleton if and only if there is some yX such that for all xX,

Definition in Principia Mathematica

The following definition was introduced by Whitehead and Russell [2]


The symbol denotes the singleton and denotes the class of objects identical with aka . This occurs as a definition in the introduction, which, in places, simplifies the argument in the main text, where it occurs as proposition 51.01 (p.357 ibid.). The proposition is subsequently used to define the cardinal number 1 as


That is, 1 is the class of singletons. This is definition 52.01 (p.363 ibid.)

See also

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  1. 1 2 Stoll, Robert (1961). Sets, Logic and Axiomatic Theories. W. H. Freeman and Company. pp. 5–6.
  2. Whitehead, Alfred North; Bertrand Russell (1910). Principia Mathematica . Vol. I. p. 37.