Greatest element and least element

Even if a set has some upper bounds, it need not have a greatest element, as shown by the example of the negative real numbers. This example also demonstrates that the existence of a least upper bound (the number 0 in this case) does not imply the existence of a greatest element either.

A greatest element of a subset of a preordered set should not be confused with a maximal element of the set, which are elements that are not strictly smaller than any other element in the set.

A set can have several maximal elements without having a greatest element. Like upper bounds and maximal elements, greatest elements may fail to exist.

In a totally ordered set the maximal element and the greatest element coincide; and it is also called maximum; in the case of function values it is also called the absolute maximum, to avoid confusion with a local maximum.[1] The dual terms are minimum and absolute minimum. Together they are called the absolute extrema. Similar conclusions hold for least elements.

Role of (in)comparability in distinguishing greatest vs. maximal elements

The least and greatest element of the whole partially ordered set play a special role and are also called bottom (⊥) and top (⊤), or zero (0) and unit (1), respectively. If both exist, the poset is called a bounded poset. The notation of 0 and 1 is used preferably when the poset is a complemented lattice, and when no confusion is likely, i.e. when one is not talking about partial orders of numbers that already contain elements 0 and 1 different from bottom and top. The existence of least and greatest elements is a special completeness property of a partial order.

Further introductory information is found in the article on order theory.