Cayley–Hamilton theorem

Every square matrix over a commutative ring satisfies its own characteristic equation

For example, suppose the task is to find the polynomial representation of

While this provides a valid proof, the argument is not very satisfactory, since the identities represented by the theorem do not in any way depend on the nature of the matrix (diagonalizable or not), nor on the kind of entries allowed (for matrices with real entries the diagonalizable ones do not form a dense set, and it seems strange one would have to consider complex matrices to see that the Cayley–Hamilton theorem holds for them). We shall therefore now consider only arguments that prove the theorem directly for any matrix using algebraic manipulations only; these also have the benefit of working for matrices with entries in any commutative ring.

There is a great variety of such proofs of the Cayley–Hamilton theorem, of which several will be given here. They vary in the amount of abstract algebraic notions required to understand the proof. The simplest proofs use just those notions needed to formulate the theorem (matrices, polynomials with numeric entries, determinants), but involve technical computations that render somewhat mysterious the fact that they lead precisely to the correct conclusion. It is possible to avoid such details, but at the price of involving more subtle algebraic notions: polynomials with coefficients in a non-commutative ring, or matrices with unusual kinds of entries.

Being a consequence of just algebraic expression manipulation, these relations are valid for matrices with entries in any commutative ring (commutativity must be assumed for determinants to be defined in the first place). This is important to note here, because these relations will be applied below for matrices with non-numeric entries such as polynomials.

Then, according to the right-hand fundamental relation of the adjugate, one has

Now, one can expand the matrix product in our equation by bilinearity:

This proof is similar to the first one, but tries to give meaning to the notion of polynomial with matrix coefficients that was suggested by the expressions occurring in that proof. This requires considerable care, since it is somewhat unusual to consider polynomials with coefficients in a non-commutative ring, and not all reasoning that is valid for commutative polynomials can be applied in this setting.

respecting the order of the coefficient matrices from the two operands; obviously this gives a non-commutative multiplication.

in which the "matrix" expression is simply not a valid one. Note, however, that if scalar multiples of identity matrices instead of scalars are subtracted in the above, i.e. if the substitution is performed as