Tits alternative

Last updated

In mathematics, the Tits alternative, named after Jacques Tits, is an important theorem about the structure of finitely generated linear groups.



The theorem, proven by Tits, [1] is stated as follows.

Theorem   Let be a finitely generated linear group over a field. Then two following possibilities occur:


A linear group is not amenable if and only if it contains a non-abelian free group (thus the von Neumann conjecture, while not true in general, holds for linear groups).

The Tits alternative is an important ingredient [2] in the proof of Gromov's theorem on groups of polynomial growth. In fact the alternative essentially establishes the result for linear groups (it reduces it to the case of solvable groups, which can be dealt with by elementary means).


In geometric group theory, a group G is said to satisfy the Tits alternative if for every subgroup H of G either H is virtually solvable or H contains a nonabelian free subgroup (in some versions of the definition this condition is only required to be satisfied for all finitely generated subgroups of G).

Examples of groups satisfying the Tits alternative which are either not linear, or at least not known to be linear, are:

Examples of groups not satisfying the Tits alternative are:


The proof of the original Tits alternative [1] is by looking at the Zariski closure of in . If it is solvable then the group is solvable. Otherwise one looks at the image of in the Levi component. If it is noncompact then a ping-pong argument finishes the proof. If it is compact then either all eigenvalues of elements in the image of are roots of unity and then the image is finite, or one can find an embedding of in which one can apply the ping-pong strategy.

Note that the proof of all generalisations above also rests on a ping-pong argument.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Simple group</span> 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.

In abstract algebra, an abelian group is called finitely generated if there exist finitely many elements in such that every in can be written in the form for some integers . In this case, we say that the set is a generating set of or that generate.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Finite group</span> Mathematical group based upon a finite number of elements

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Linear algebraic group</span> Subgroup of the group of invertible n×n matrices

In mathematics, a linear algebraic group is a subgroup of the group of invertible matrices that is defined by polynomial equations. An example is the orthogonal group, defined by the relation where is the transpose of .

In geometric group theory, Gromov's theorem on groups of polynomial growth, first proved by Mikhail Gromov, characterizes finitely generated groups of polynomial growth, as those groups which have nilpotent subgroups of finite index.

In mathematics, an amenable group is a locally compact topological group G carrying a kind of averaging operation on bounded functions that is invariant under translation by group elements. The original definition, in terms of a finitely additive measure on subsets of G, was introduced by John von Neumann in 1929 under the German name "messbar" in response to the Banach–Tarski paradox. In 1949 Mahlon M. Day introduced the English translation "amenable", apparently as a pun on "mean".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burnside's theorem</span> Mathematic group theory

In mathematics, Burnside's theorem in group theory states that if G is a finite group of order 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hyperbolic group</span> Mathematical concept

In group theory, more precisely in geometric group theory, a hyperbolic group, also known as a word hyperbolic group or Gromov hyperbolic group, is a finitely generated group equipped with a word metric satisfying certain properties abstracted from classical hyperbolic geometry. The notion of a hyperbolic group was introduced and developed by Mikhail Gromov (1987). The inspiration came from various existing mathematical theories: hyperbolic geometry but also low-dimensional topology, and combinatorial group theory. In a very influential chapter from 1987, Gromov proposed a wide-ranging research program. Ideas and foundational material in the theory of hyperbolic groups also stem from the work of George Mostow, William Thurston, James W. Cannon, Eliyahu Rips, and many others.

In mathematics, a matrix group is a group G consisting of invertible matrices over a specified field K, with the operation of matrix multiplication. A linear group is a group that is isomorphic to a matrix group.

In mathematics, especially in the area of abstract algebra that studies infinite groups, the adverb virtually is used to modify a property so that it need only hold for a subgroup of finite index. Given a property P, the group G is said to be virtually P if there is a finite index subgroup such that H has property P.

In mathematics, a group is called boundedly generated if it can be expressed as a finite product of cyclic subgroups. The property of bounded generation is also closely related with the congruence subgroup problem.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lattice (discrete subgroup)</span>

In Lie theory and related areas of mathematics, a lattice in a locally compact group is a discrete subgroup with the property that the quotient space has finite invariant measure. In the special case of subgroups of Rn, this amounts to the usual geometric notion of a lattice as a periodic subset of points, and both the algebraic structure of lattices and the geometry of the space of all lattices are relatively well understood.

In mathematics, the Chevalley–Shephard–Todd theorem in invariant theory of finite groups states that the ring of invariants of a finite group acting on a complex vector space is a polynomial ring if and only if the group is generated by pseudoreflections. In the case of subgroups of the complex general linear group the theorem was first proved by G. C. Shephard and J. A. Todd (1954) who gave a case-by-case proof. Claude Chevalley (1955) soon afterwards gave a uniform proof. It has been extended to finite linear groups over an arbitrary field in the non-modular case by Jean-Pierre Serre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John R. Stallings</span> American mathematician

John Robert Stallings Jr. was a mathematician known for his seminal contributions to geometric group theory and 3-manifold topology. Stallings was a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley where he had been a faculty member since 1967. He published over 50 papers, predominantly in the areas of geometric group theory and the topology of 3-manifolds. Stallings' most important contributions include a proof, in a 1960 paper, of the Poincaré Conjecture in dimensions greater than six and a proof, in a 1971 paper, of the Stallings theorem about ends of groups.

In mathematics, the ping-pong lemma, or table-tennis lemma, is any of several mathematical statements that ensure that several elements in a group acting on a set freely generates a free subgroup of that group.

In the mathematical subject of geometric group theory, a train track map is a continuous map f from a finite connected graph to itself which is a homotopy equivalence and which has particularly nice cancellation properties with respect to iterations. This map sends vertices to vertices and edges to nontrivial edge-paths with the property that for every edge e of the graph and for every positive integer n the path fn(e) is immersed, that is fn(e) is locally injective on e. Train-track maps are a key tool in analyzing the dynamics of automorphisms of finitely generated free groups and in the study of the Culler–Vogtmann Outer space.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mladen Bestvina</span> Croatian-American mathematician

Mladen Bestvina is a Croatian-American mathematician working in the area of geometric group theory. He is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Utah.

In mathematics, a signalizer functor gives the intersections of a potential subgroup of a finite group with the centralizers of nontrivial elements of an abelian group. The signalizer functor theorem gives conditions under which a signalizer functor comes from a subgroup. The idea is to try to construct a -subgroup of a finite group , which has a good chance of being normal in , by taking as generators certain -subgroups of the centralizers of nonidentity elements in one or several given noncyclic elementary abelian -subgroups of The technique has origins in the Feit–Thompson theorem, and was subsequently developed by many people including Gorenstein (1969) who defined signalizer functors, Glauberman (1976) who proved the Solvable Signalizer Functor Theorem for solvable groups, and McBride who proved it for all groups. This theorem is needed to prove the so-called "dichotomy" stating that a given nonabelian finite simple group either has local characteristic two, or is of component type. It thus plays a major role in the classification of finite simple groups.

In mathematics, and more precisely in topology, the mapping class group of a surface, sometimes called the modular group or Teichmüller modular group, is the group of homeomorphisms of the surface viewed up to continuous deformation. It is of fundamental importance for the study of 3-manifolds via their embedded surfaces and is also studied in algebraic geometry in relation to moduli problems for curves.


  1. 1 2 Tits, J. (1972). "Free subgroups in linear groups". Journal of Algebra . 20 (2): 250–270. doi: 10.1016/0021-8693(72)90058-0 .
  2. Tits, Jacques (1981). "Groupes à croissance polynomiale". Séminaire Bourbaki (in French). 1980/1981.
  3. Ivanov, Nikolai (1984). "Algebraic properties of the Teichmüller modular group". Dokl. Akad. Nauk SSSR. 275: 786–789.
  4. McCarthy, John (1985). "A "Tits-alternative" for subgroups of surface mapping class groups". Trans. Amer. Math. Soc. 291: 583–612. doi: 10.1090/s0002-9947-1985-0800253-8 .
  5. Bestvina, Mladen; Feighn, Mark; Handel, Michael (2000). "The Tits alternative for Out(Fn) I: Dynamics of exponentially-growing automorphisms". Annals of Mathematics . 151 (2): 517–623. arXiv: math/9712217 . doi:10.2307/121043. JSTOR   121043.
  6. Cantat, Serge (2011). "Sur les groupes de transformations birationnelles des surfaces". Ann. Math. (in French). 174: 299–340. doi: 10.4007/annals.2011.174.1.8 .