Here are some simple but useful commutator identities, true for any elements s, g, h of a group G:
However, the product of two or more commutators need not be a commutator. A generic example is [a,b][c,d] in the free group on a,b,c,d. It is known that the least order of a finite group for which there exists two commutators whose product is not a commutator is 96; in fact there are two nonisomorphic groups of order 96 with this property.
This shows that the commutator subgroup can be viewed as a functor on the category of groups, some implications of which are explored below. Moreover, taking G = H it shows that the commutator subgroup is stable under every endomorphism of G: that is, [G,G] is a fully characteristic subgroup of G, a property considerably stronger than normality.
The commutator subgroup can also be defined as the set of elements g of the group that have an expression as a product g = g1 g2 ... gk that can be rearranged to give the identity.
For a finite group, the derived series terminates in a perfect group, which may or may not be trivial. For an infinite group, the derived series need not terminate at a finite stage, and one can continue it to infinite ordinal numbers via transfinite recursion, thereby obtaining the transfinite derived series, which eventually terminates at the perfect core of the group.
The abelianization functor is the left adjoint of the inclusion functor from the category of abelian groups to the category of groups. The existence of the abelianization functor Grp → Ab makes the category Ab a reflective subcategory of the category of groups, defined as a full subcategory whose inclusion functor has a left adjoint.
Since the derived subgroup is characteristic, any automorphism of G induces an automorphism of the abelianization. Since the abelianization is abelian, inner automorphisms act trivially, hence this yields a map