In mathematics, a binary operation is commutative if changing the order of the operands does not change the result. It is a fundamental property of many binary operations, and many mathematical proofs depend on it. Most familiar as the name of the property that says something like "3 + 4 = 4 + 3" or "2 × 5 = 5 × 2", the property can also be used in more advanced settings. The name is needed because there are operations, such as division and subtraction, that do not have it (for example, "3 − 5 ≠ 5 − 3"); such operations are not commutative, and so are referred to as noncommutative operations. The idea that simple operations, such as the multiplication and addition of numbers, are commutative was for many years implicitly assumed. Thus, this property was not named until the 19th century, when mathematics started to become formalized. A corresponding property exists for binary relations; a binary relation is said to be symmetric if the relation applies regardless of the order of its operands; for example, equality is symmetric as two equal mathematical objects are equal regardless of their order.
The commutative property (or commutative law) is a property generally associated with binary operations and functions. If the commutative property holds for a pair of elements under a certain binary operation then the two elements are said to commute under that operation.
Some truth functions are noncommutative, since the truth tables for the functions are different when one changes the order of the operands. For example, the truth tables for (A ⇒ B) = (¬A ∨ B) and (B ⇒ A) = (A ∨ ¬B) are
Records of the implicit use of the commutative property go back to ancient times. The Egyptians used the commutative property of multiplication to simplify computing products. Euclid is known to have assumed the commutative property of multiplication in his book Elements. Formal uses of the commutative property arose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when mathematicians began to work on a theory of functions. Today the commutative property is a well-known and basic property used in most branches of mathematics.
The first recorded use of the term commutative was in a memoir by François Servois in 1814, which used the word commutatives when describing functions that have what is now called the commutative property. The word is a combination of the French word commuter meaning "to substitute or switch" and the suffix -ative meaning "tending to" so the word literally means "tending to substitute or switch". The term then appeared in English in 1838. in Duncan Farquharson Gregory's article entitled "On the real nature of symbolical algebra" published in 1840 in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
In truth-functional propositional logic, commutation, or commutativity refer to two valid rules of replacement. The rules allow one to transpose propositional variables within logical expressions in logical proofs. The rules are:
Commutativity is a property of some logical connectives of truth functional propositional logic. The following logical equivalences demonstrate that commutativity is a property of particular connectives. The following are truth-functional tautologies.
In group and set theory, many algebraic structures are called commutative when certain operands satisfy the commutative property. In higher branches of mathematics, such as analysis and linear algebra the commutativity of well-known operations (such as addition and multiplication on real and complex numbers) is often used (or implicitly assumed) in proofs.
The associative property is closely related to the commutative property. The associative property of an expression containing two or more occurrences of the same operator states that the order operations are performed in does not affect the final result, as long as the order of terms does not change. In contrast, the commutative property states that the order of the terms does not affect the final result.
Most commutative operations encountered in practice are also associative. However, commutativity does not imply associativity. A counterexample is the function