# Affine space

In mathematics, an **affine space** is a geometric structure that generalizes some of the properties of Euclidean spaces in such a way that these are independent of the concepts of distance and measure of angles, keeping only the properties related to parallelism and ratio of lengths for parallel line segments.

In an affine space, there is no distinguished point that serves as an origin. Hence, no vector has a fixed origin and no vector can be uniquely associated to a point. In an affine space, there are instead *displacement vectors*, also called *translation* vectors or simply *translations*, between two points of the space.^{[1]} Thus it makes sense to subtract two points of the space, giving a translation vector, but it does not make sense to add two points of the space. Likewise, it makes sense to add a displacement vector to a point of an affine space, resulting in a new point translated from the starting point by that vector.

Any vector space may be viewed as an affine space; this amounts to forgetting the special role played by the zero vector. In this case, the elements of the vector space may be viewed either as *points* of the affine space or as *displacement vectors* or *translations*. When considered as a point, the zero vector is called the *origin*. Adding a fixed vector to the elements of a linear subspace of a vector space produces an *affine subspace*. One commonly says that this affine subspace has been obtained by translating (away from the origin) the linear subspace by the translation vector. In finite dimensions, such an *affine subspace* is the solution set of an inhomogeneous linear system. The displacement vectors for that affine space are the solutions of the corresponding *homogeneous* linear system, which is a linear subspace. Linear subspaces, in contrast, always contain the origin of the vector space.

The *dimension* of an affine space is defined as the dimension of the vector space of its translations. An affine space of dimension one is an **affine line**. An affine space of dimension 2 is an affine plane. An affine subspace of dimension *n* – 1 in an affine space or a vector space of dimension *n* is an affine hyperplane.

The following characterization may be easier to understand than the usual formal definition: an affine space is what is left of a vector space after you've forgotten which point is the origin (or, in the words of the French mathematician Marcel Berger, "An affine space is nothing more than a vector space whose origin we try to forget about, by adding translations to the linear maps"^{[2]}). Imagine that Alice knows that a certain point is the actual origin, but Bob believes that another point—call it **p**—is the origin. Two vectors, **a** and **b**, are to be added. Bob draws an arrow from point **p** to point **a** and another arrow from point **p** to point **b**, and completes the parallelogram to find what Bob thinks is **a** + **b**, but Alice knows that he has actually computed

Similarly, Alice and Bob may evaluate any linear combination of **a** and **b**, or of any finite set of vectors, and will generally get different answers. However, if the sum of the coefficients in a linear combination is 1, then Alice and Bob will arrive at the same answer.

Under this condition, for all coefficients λ + (1 − λ) = 1, Alice and Bob describe the same point with the same linear combination, despite using different origins.

While only Alice knows the "linear structure", both Alice and Bob know the "affine structure"—i.e. the values of affine combinations, defined as linear combinations in which the sum of the coefficients is 1. A set with an affine structure is an affine space.

Explicitly, the definition above means that the action is a mapping, generally denoted as an addition,

The first two properties are simply defining properties of a (right) group action. The third property characterizes free and transitive actions, the onto character coming from transitivity, and then the injective character follows from the action being free. There is a fourth property that follows from 1, 2 above:

Another way to express the definition is that an affine space is a principal homogeneous space for the action of the additive group of a vector space. Homogeneous spaces are by definition endowed with a transitive group action, and for a principal homogeneous space such a transitive action is by definition free.

Existence follows from the transitivity of the action, and uniqueness follows because the action is free.

This subtraction has the two following properties, called Weyl's axioms:^{[7]}

In Euclidean geometry, the second Weyl's axiom is commonly called the *parallelogram rule*.

The linear subspace associated with an affine subspace is often called its *direction*, and two subspaces that share the same direction are said to be *parallel*.

This implies the following generalization of Playfair's axiom: Given a direction *V*, for any point *a* of *A* there is one and only one affine subspace of direction *V*, which passes through *a*, namely the subspace *a* + *V*.

The term *parallel* is also used for two affine subspaces such that the direction of one is included in the direction of the other.

Every vector space *V* may be considered as an affine space over itself. This means that every element of *V* may be considered either as a point or as a vector. This affine space is sometimes denoted (*V*, *V*) for emphasizing the double role of the elements of *V*. When considered as a point, the zero vector is commonly denoted *o* (or *O*, when upper-case letters are used for points) and called the *origin*.

Euclidean spaces (including the one-dimensional line, two-dimensional plane, and three-dimensional space commonly studied in elementary geometry, as well as higher-dimensional analogues) are affine spaces.

Indeed, in most modern definitions, a Euclidean space is defined to be an affine space, such that the associated vector space is a real inner product space of finite dimension, that is a vector space over the reals with a positive-definite quadratic form *q*(*x*). The inner product of two vectors x and y is the value of the symmetric bilinear form

In older definition of Euclidean spaces through synthetic geometry, vectors are defined as equivalence classes of ordered pairs of points under equipollence (the pairs (*A*, *B*) and (*C*, *D*) are *equipollent* if the points *A*, *B*, *D*, *C* (in this order) form a parallelogram). It is straightforward to verify that the vectors form a vector space, the square of the Euclidean distance is a quadratic form on the space of vectors, and the two definitions of Euclidean spaces are equivalent.

In Euclidean geometry, the common phrase "**affine property**" refers to a property that can be proved in affine spaces, that is, it can be proved without using the quadratic form and its associated inner product. In other words, an affine property is a property that does not involve lengths and angles. Typical examples are parallelism, and the definition of a tangent. A non-example is the definition of a normal.

Equivalently, an affine property is a property that is invariant under affine transformations of the Euclidean space.

Thus this sum is independent of the choice of the origin, and the resulting vector may be denoted

For any subset *X* of an affine space *A*, there is a smallest affine subspace that contains it, called the **affine span** of *X*. It is the intersection of all affine subspaces containing *X*, and its direction is the intersection of the directions of the affine subspaces that contain *X*.

The affine span of *X* is the set of all (finite) affine combinations of points of *X*, and its direction is the linear span of the *x* − *y* for *x* and *y* in *X*. If one chooses a particular point *x*_{0}, the direction of the affine span of *X* is also the linear span of the *x* – *x*_{0} for *x* in *X*.

One says also that the affine span of *X* is **generated** by *X* and that *X* is a **generating set** of its affine span.

A set *X* of points of an affine space is said to be **
affinely independent** or, simply, **independent**, if the affine span of any strict subset of *X* is a strict subset of the affine span of *X*. An **
affine basis** or **barycentric frame** (see § Barycentric coordinates, below) of an affine space is a generating set that is also independent (that is a minimal generating set).

There are two strongly related kinds of coordinate systems that may be defined on affine spaces.

For affine spaces of infinite dimension, the same definition applies, using only finite sums. This means that for each point, only a finite number of coordinates are non-zero.

**Example:** In Euclidean geometry, Cartesian coordinates are affine coordinates relative to an **orthonormal frame**, that is an affine frame (*o*, *v*_{1}, ..., *v*_{n}) such that (*v*_{1}, ..., *v*_{n}) is an orthonormal basis.

Barycentric coordinates and affine coordinates are strongly related, and may be considered as equivalent.

are the barycentric coordinates of a point over the barycentric frame, then the affine coordinates of the same point over the affine frame are

are the affine coordinates of a point over the affine frame, then its barycentric coordinates over the barycentric frame are

Therefore, barycentric and affine coordinates are almost equivalent. In most applications, affine coordinates are preferred, as involving less coordinates that are independent. However, in the situations where the important points of the studied problem are affinely independent, barycentric coordinates may lead to simpler computation, as in the following example.

The vertices of a non-flat triangle form an affine basis of the Euclidean plane. The barycentric coordinates allows easy characterization of the elements of the triangle that do not involve angles or distance:

The vertices are the points of barycentric coordinates (1, 0, 0), (0, 1, 0) and (0, 0, 1). The lines supporting the edges are the points that have a zero coordinate. The edges themselves are the points that have a zero coordinate and two nonnegative coordinates. The interior of the triangle are the points whose coordinates are all positive. The medians are the points that have two equal coordinates, and the centroid is the point of coordinates (1/3, 1/3, 1/3).

An important example is the projection parallel to some direction onto an affine subspace. The importance of this example lies in the fact that Euclidean spaces are affine spaces, and that these kinds of projections are fundamental in Euclidean geometry.

The image of this projection is *F*, and its fibers are the subspaces of direction *D*.

Although kernels are not defined for affine spaces, quotient spaces are defined. This results from the fact that "belonging to the same fiber of an affine homomorphism" is an equivalence relation.

Affine spaces are usually studied by analytic geometry using coordinates, or equivalently vector spaces. They can also be studied as synthetic geometry by writing down axioms, though this approach is much less common. There are several different systems of axioms for affine space.

Coxeter (1969, p. 192) axiomatizes the special case of affine geometry over the reals as ordered geometry together with an affine form of Desargues's theorem and an axiom stating that in a plane there is at most one line through a given point not meeting a given line.

Affine planes satisfy the following axioms (Cameron 1991, chapter 2): (in which two lines are called parallel if they are equal or disjoint):

As well as affine planes over fields (or division rings), there are also many non-Desarguesian planes satisfying these axioms. (Cameron 1991, chapter 3) gives axioms for higher-dimensional affine spaces.

Purely axiomatic affine geometry is more general than affine spaces and is treated in a separate article.

Affine spaces are contained in projective spaces. For example, an affine plane can be obtained from any projective plane by removing one line and all the points on it, and conversely any affine plane can be used to construct a projective plane as a closure by adding a line at infinity whose points correspond to equivalence classes of parallel lines. Similar constructions hold in higher dimensions.

Further, transformations of projective space that preserve affine space (equivalently, that leave the hyperplane at infinity invariant as a set) yield transformations of affine space. Conversely, any affine linear transformation extends uniquely to a projective linear transformation, so the affine group is a subgroup of the projective group. For instance, Möbius transformations (transformations of the complex projective line, or Riemann sphere) are affine (transformations of the complex plane) if and only if they fix the point at infinity.

In algebraic geometry, an affine variety (or, more generally, an affine algebraic set) is defined as the subset of an affine space that is the set of the common zeros of a set of so-called *polynomial functions over the affine space*. For defining a *polynomial function over the affine space*, one has to choose an affine frame. Then, a polynomial function is a function such that the image of any point is the value of some multivariate polynomial function of the coordinates of the point. As a change of affine coordinates may be expressed by linear functions (more precisely affine functions) of the coordinates, this definition is independent of a particular choice of coordinates.

As the whole affine space is the set of the common zeros of the zero polynomial, affine spaces are affine algebraic varieties.

Affine spaces over topological fields, such as the real or the complex numbers, have a natural topology. The Zariski topology, which is defined for affine spaces over any field, allows use of topological methods in any case. Zariski topology is the unique topology on an affine space whose closed sets are affine algebraic sets (that is sets of the common zeros of polynomials functions over the affine set). As, over a topological field, polynomial functions are continuous, every Zariski closed set is closed for the usual topology, if any. In other words, over a topological field, Zariski topology is coarser than the natural topology.

The case of an algebraically closed ground field is especially important in algebraic geometry, because, in this case, the homeomorphism above is a map between the affine space and the set of all maximal ideals of the ring of functions (this is Hilbert's Nullstellensatz).

This is the starting idea of scheme theory of Grothendieck, which consists, for studying algebraic varieties, of considering as "points", not only the points of the affine space, but also all the prime ideals of the spectrum. This allows gluing together algebraic varieties in a similar way as, for manifolds, charts are glued together for building a manifold.