In mathematics, a sequence is an enumerated collection of objects in which repetitions are allowed and order matters. Like a set, it contains members (also called elements, or terms). The number of elements (possibly infinite) is called the length of the sequence. Unlike a set, the same elements can appear multiple times at different positions in a sequence, and unlike a set, the order does matter. Formally, a sequence can be defined as a function from natural numbers (the positions of elements in the sequence) to the elements at each position. The notion of a sequence can be generalized to an indexed family, defined as a function from an index set that may not be numbers to another set of elements.
For example, (M, A, R, Y) is a sequence of letters with the letter 'M' first and 'Y' last. This sequence differs from (A, R, M, Y). Also, the sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8), which contains the number 1 at two different positions, is a valid sequence. Sequences can be finite, as in these examples, or infinite, such as the sequence of all even positive integers (2, 4, 6, ...).
In computing and computer science, finite sequences are sometimes called strings, words or lists, the different names commonly corresponding to different ways to represent them in computer memory; infinite sequences are called streams. The empty sequence ( ) is included in most notions of sequence, but may be excluded depending on the context.
A sequence can be thought of as a list of elements with a particular order. Sequences are useful in a number of mathematical disciplines for studying functions, spaces, and other mathematical structures using the convergence properties of sequences. In particular, sequences are the basis for series, which are important in differential equations and analysis. Sequences are also of interest in their own right, and can be studied as patterns or puzzles, such as in the study of prime numbers.
There are a number of ways to denote a sequence, some of which are more useful for specific types of sequences. One way to specify a sequence is to list all its elements. For example, the first four odd numbers form the sequence (1, 3, 5, 7). This notation is used for infinite sequences as well. For instance, the infinite sequence of positive odd integers is written as (1, 3, 5, 7, ...). Because notating sequences with ellipsis leads to ambiguity, listing is most useful for customary infinite sequences which can be easily recognized from their first few elements. Other ways of denoting a sequence are discussed after the examples.
The prime numbers are the natural numbers greater than 1 that have no divisors but 1 and themselves. Taking these in their natural order gives the sequence (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, ...). The prime numbers are widely used in mathematics, particularly in number theory where many results related to them exist.
The Fibonacci numbers comprise the integer sequence whose elements are the sum of the previous two elements. The first two elements are either 0 and 1 or 1 and 1 so that the sequence is (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, ...).
Other examples of sequences include those made up of rational numbers, real numbers and complex numbers. The sequence (.9, .99, .999, .9999, ...), for instance, approaches the number 1. In fact, every real number can be written as the limit of a sequence of rational numbers (e.g. via its decimal expansion). As another example, π is the limit of the sequence (3, 3.1, 3.14, 3.141, 3.1415, ...), which is increasing. A related sequence is the sequence of decimal digits of π, that is, (3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, ...). Unlike the preceding sequence, this sequence does not have any pattern that is easily discernible by inspection.
In some cases, the elements of the sequence are related naturally to a sequence of integers whose pattern can be easily inferred. In these cases, the index set may be implied by a listing of the first few abstract elements. For instance, the sequence of squares of odd numbers could be denoted in any of the following ways.
Sequences whose elements are related to the previous elements in a straightforward way are often defined using recursion. This is in contrast to the definition of sequences of elements as functions of their positions.
To define a sequence by recursion, one needs a rule, called recurrence relation to construct each element in terms of the ones before it. In addition, enough initial elements must be provided so that all subsequent elements of the sequence can be computed by successive applications of the recurrence relation.
The Fibonacci sequence is a simple classical example, defined by the recurrence relation
A linear recurrence with constant coefficients is a recurrence relation of the form
A holonomic sequence is a sequence defined by a recurrence relation of the form
Not all sequences can be specified by a recurrence relation. An example is the sequence of prime numbers in their natural order (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, ...).
There are many different notions of sequences in mathematics, some of which (e.g., exact sequence) are not covered by the definitions and notations introduced below.
In this article, a sequence is formally defined as a function whose domain is an interval of integers. This definition covers several different uses of the word "sequence", including one-sided infinite sequences, bi-infinite sequences, and finite sequences (see below for definitions of these kinds of sequences). However, many authors use a narrower definition by requiring the domain of a sequence to be the set of natural numbers. This narrower definition has the disadvantage that it rules out finite sequences and bi-infinite sequences, both of which are usually called sequences in standard mathematical practice. Another disadvantage is that, if one removes the first terms of a sequence, one needs reindexing the remainder terms for fitting this definition. In some contexts, to shorten exposition, the codomain of the sequence is fixed by context, for example by requiring it to be the set R of real numbers, the set C of complex numbers, or a topological space.
Sequences and their limits (see below) are important concepts for studying topological spaces. An important generalization of sequences is the concept of nets. A net is a function from a (possibly uncountable) directed set to a topological space. The notational conventions for sequences normally apply to nets as well.
The length of a sequence is defined as the number of terms in the sequence.
A sequence of a finite length n is also called an n-tuple. Finite sequences include the empty sequence ( ) that has no elements.
The terms nondecreasing and nonincreasing are often used in place of increasing and decreasing in order to avoid any possible confusion with strictly increasing and strictly decreasing, respectively.
If the sequence of real numbers (an) is such that all the terms are less than some real number M, then the sequence is said to be bounded from above. In other words, this means that there exists M such that for all n, an ≤ M. Any such M is called an upper bound. Likewise, if, for some real m, an ≥ m for all n greater than some N, then the sequence is bounded from below and any such m is called a lower bound. If a sequence is both bounded from above and bounded from below, then the sequence is said to be bounded.
A subsequence of a given sequence is a sequence formed from the given sequence by deleting some of the elements without disturbing the relative positions of the remaining elements. For instance, the sequence of positive even integers (2, 4, 6, ...) is a subsequence of the positive integers (1, 2, 3, ...). The positions of some elements change when other elements are deleted. However, the relative positions are preserved.
An important property of a sequence is convergence. If a sequence converges, it converges to a particular value known as the limit. If a sequence converges to some limit, then it is convergent. A sequence that does not converge is divergent.
A Cauchy sequence is a sequence whose terms become arbitrarily close together as n gets very large. The notion of a Cauchy sequence is important in the study of sequences in metric spaces, and, in particular, in real analysis. One particularly important result in real analysis is Cauchy characterization of convergence for sequences:
In contrast, there are Cauchy sequences of rational numbers that are not convergent in the rationals, e.g. the sequence defined by x1 = 1 and xn+1 = xn + 2/xn/2 is Cauchy, but has no rational limit, cf. here. More generally, any sequence of rational numbers that converges to an irrational number is Cauchy, but not convergent when interpreted as a sequence in the set of rational numbers.
Metric spaces that satisfy the Cauchy characterization of convergence for sequences are called complete metric spaces and are particularly nice for analysis.
In this case we say that the sequence diverges, or that it converges to infinity. An example of such a sequence is an = n.
Sequences play an important role in topology, especially in the study of metric spaces. For instance:
In analysis, when talking about sequences, one will generally consider sequences of the form
which is to say, infinite sequences of elements indexed by natural numbers.
It may be convenient to have the sequence start with an index different from 1 or 0. For example, the sequence defined by xn = 1/log(n) would be defined only for n ≥ 2. When talking about such infinite sequences, it is usually sufficient (and does not change much for most considerations) to assume that the members of the sequence are defined at least for all indices large enough, that is, greater than some given N.
The most elementary type of sequences are numerical ones, that is, sequences of real or complex numbers. This type can be generalized to sequences of elements of some vector space. In analysis, the vector spaces considered are often function spaces. Even more generally, one can study sequences with elements in some topological space.
A sequence space is a vector space whose elements are infinite sequences of real or complex numbers. Equivalently, it is a function space whose elements are functions from the natural numbers to the field K, where K is either the field of real numbers or the field of complex numbers. The set of all such functions is naturally identified with the set of all possible infinite sequences with elements in K, and can be turned into a vector space under the operations of pointwise addition of functions and pointwise scalar multiplication. All sequence spaces are linear subspaces of this space. Sequence spaces are typically equipped with a norm, or at least the structure of a topological vector space.
The most important sequences spaces in analysis are the ℓp spaces, consisting of the p-power summable sequences, with the p-norm. These are special cases of Lp spaces for the counting measure on the set of natural numbers. Other important classes of sequences like convergent sequences or null sequences form sequence spaces, respectively denoted c and c0, with the sup norm. Any sequence space can also be equipped with the topology of pointwise convergence, under which it becomes a special kind of Fréchet space called an FK-space.
Sequences over a field may also be viewed as vectors in a vector space. Specifically, the set of F-valued sequences (where F is a field) is a function space (in fact, a product space) of F-valued functions over the set of natural numbers.
Abstract algebra employs several types of sequences, including sequences of mathematical objects such as groups or rings.
If A is a set, the free monoid over A (denoted A*, also called Kleene star of A) is a monoid containing all the finite sequences (or strings) of zero or more elements of A, with the binary operation of concatenation. The free semigroup A+ is the subsemigroup of A* containing all elements except the empty sequence.
The sequence of groups and homomorphisms may be either finite or infinite.
In homological algebra and algebraic topology, a spectral sequence is a means of computing homology groups by taking successive approximations. Spectral sequences are a generalization of exact sequences, and since their introduction by Jean Leray (1946), they have become an important research tool, particularly in homotopy theory.
An ordinal-indexed sequence is a generalization of a sequence. If α is a limit ordinal and X is a set, an α-indexed sequence of elements of X is a function from α to X. In this terminology an ω-indexed sequence is an ordinary sequence.
An infinite binary sequence can represent a formal language (a set of strings) by setting the n th bit of the sequence to 1 if and only if the n th string (in shortlex order) is in the language. This representation is useful in the diagonalization method for proofs.