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.
The concept of an abelian group underlies many fundamental algebraic structures, such as fields, rings, vector spaces, and algebras. The theory of abelian groups is generally simpler than that of their non-abelian counterparts, and finite abelian groups are very well understood and fully classified.
A group in which the group operation is not commutative is called a "non-abelian group" or "non-commutative group".:11
There are two main notational conventions for abelian groups – additive and multiplicative.
Generally, the multiplicative notation is the usual notation for groups, while the additive notation is the usual notation for modules and rings. The additive notation may also be used to emphasize that a particular group is abelian, whenever both abelian and non-abelian groups are considered, some notable exceptions being near-rings and partially ordered groups, where an operation is written additively even when non-abelian.:28–29
Camille Jordan named abelian groups after Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel, because Abel found that the commutativity of the group of a polynomial implies that the roots of the polynomial can be calculated by using radicals.:144–145
Somewhat akin to the dimension of vector spaces, every abelian group has a rank. It is defined as the maximal cardinality of a set of linearly independent (over the integers) elements of the group.:49–50 Finite abelian groups and torsion groups have rank zero, and every abelian group of rank zero is a torsion group. The integers and the rational numbers have rank one, as well as every nonzero additive subgroup of the rationals. On the other hand, the multiplicative group of the nonzero rationals has an infinite rank, as it is a free abelian group with the set of the prime numbers as a basis (this results from the fundamental theorem of arithmetic).
The classification was proven by Leopold Kronecker in 1870, though it was not stated in modern group-theoretic terms until later, and was preceded by a similar classification of quadratic forms by Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1801; see history for details.
See also list of small groups for finite abelian groups of order 30 or less.
One can check that this yields the orders in the previous examples as special cases (see Hillar, C., & Rhea, D.).
This homomorphism is surjective, and its kernel is finitely generated (since integers form a Noetherian ring). Consider the matrix M with integer entries, such that the entries of its jth column are the coefficients of the jth generator of the kernel. Then, the abelian group is isomorphic to the cokernel of linear map defined by M. Conversely every integer matrix defines a finitely generated abelian group.
It follows that the study of finitely generated abelian groups is totally equivalent with the study of integer matrices. In particular, changing the generating set of A is equivalent with multiplying M on the left by a unimodular matrix (that is, an invertible integer matrix whose inverse is also an integer matrix). Changing the generating set of the kernel of M is equivalent with multiplying M on the right by a unimodular matrix.
where r is the number of zero rows at the bottom of r (and also the rank of the group). This is the .
The existence of algorithms for Smith normal form shows that the fundamental theorem of finitely generated abelian groups is not only a theorem of abstract existence, but provides a way for computing expression of finitely generated abelian groups as direct sums.
An abelian group is called torsion-free if every non-zero element has infinite order. Several classes of torsion-free abelian groups have been studied extensively:
The classification theorems for finitely generated, divisible, countable periodic, and rank 1 torsion-free abelian groups explained above were all obtained before 1950 and form a foundation of the classification of more general infinite abelian groups. Important technical tools used in classification of infinite abelian groups are pure and basic subgroups. Introduction of various invariants of torsion-free abelian groups has been one avenue of further progress. See the books by Irving Kaplansky, László Fuchs, Phillip Griffith, and David Arnold, as well as the proceedings of the conferences on Abelian Group Theory published in Lecture Notes in Mathematics for more recent findings.
The additive group of a ring is an abelian group, but not all abelian groups are additive groups of rings (with nontrivial multiplication). Some important topics in this area of study are:
Moreover, abelian groups of infinite order lead, quite surprisingly, to deep questions about the set theory commonly assumed to underlie all of mathematics. Take the Whitehead problem: are all Whitehead groups of infinite order also free abelian groups? In the 1970s, Saharon Shelah proved that the Whitehead problem is:
Among mathematical adjectives derived from the proper name of a mathematician, the word "abelian" is rare in that it is often spelled with a lowercase a, rather than an uppercase A, the lack of capitalization being a tacit acknowledgement not only of the degree to which Abel's name has been institutionalized but also of how ubiquitous in modern mathematics are the concepts introduced by him.