Intuitively, a nilpotent group is a group that is "almost abelian". This idea is motivated by the fact that nilpotent groups are solvable, and for finite nilpotent groups, two elements having relatively prime orders must commute. It is also true that finite nilpotent groups are supersolvable. The concept is credited to work in the 1930s by Russian mathematician Sergei Chernikov.
The definition uses the idea of a central series for a group. The following are equivalent definitions for a nilpotent group G:
Equivalently, the nilpotency class of G equals the length of the lower central series or upper central series. If a group has nilpotency class at most n, then it is sometimes called a nil-n group.
It follows immediately from any of the above forms of the definition of nilpotency, that the trivial group is the unique group of nilpotency class 0, and groups of nilpotency class 1 are exactly the non-trivial abelian groups.
An abelian group is precisely one for which the adjoint action is not just nilpotent but trivial (a 1-Engel group).
Every subgroup of a nilpotent group of class n is nilpotent of class at most n; in addition, if f is a homomorphism of a nilpotent group of class n, then the image of f is nilpotent of class at most n.
The following statements are equivalent for finite groups, revealing some useful properties of nilpotency:
Proof: (a)→(b): By induction on |G|. If G is abelian, then for any H, NG(H)=G. If not, if Z(G) is not contained in H, then hZHZ−1h−1=h'H'h−1=H, so H·Z(G) normalizers H. If Z(G) is contained in H, then H/Z(G) is contained in G/Z(G). Note, G/Z(G) is a nilpotent group. Thus, there exists an subgroup of G/Z(G) which normalizers H/Z(G) and H/Z(G) is a proper subgroup of it. Therefore, pullback this subgroup to the subgroup in G and it normalizes H. (This proof is the same argument as for p-groups – the only fact we needed was if G is nilpotent then so is G/Z(G) – so the details are omitted.)
(b)→(c): Let p1,p2,...,ps be the distinct primes dividing its order and let Pi in Sylpi(G),1≤i≤s. Let P=Pi for some i and let N=NG(P). Since P is a normal subgroup of N, P is characteristic in N. Since P char N and N is a normal subgroup of NG(N), we get that P is a normal subgroup of NG(N). This means NG(N) is a subgroup of N and hence NG(N)=N. By (b) we must therefore have N=G, which gives (c).
(c)→(d): Let p1,p2,...,ps be the distinct primes dividing its order and let Pi in Sylpi(G),1≤i≤s. For any t, 1≤t≤s we show inductively that P1P2...Pt is isomorphic to P1×P2×...×Pt. Note first that each Pi is normal in G so P1P2...Pt is a subgroup of G. Let H be the product P1P2...Pt-1 and let K=Pt, so by induction H is isomorphic to P1×P2×...×Pt-1. In particular,|H|=|P1|·|P2|·...·|Pt-1|. Since |K|=|Pt|, the orders of H and K are relatively prime. Lagrange's Theorem implies the intersection of H and K is equal to 1. By definition,P1P2...Pt=HK, hence HK is isomorphic to H×K which is equal to P1×P2×...×Pt. This completes the induction. Now take t=s to obtain (d).
(d)→(e): Note that a P-group of order pk has a normal subgroup of order pm for all 1≤m≤k. Since G is a direct product of its Sylow subgroups, and normality is preserved upon direct product of groups, G has a normal subgroup of order d for every divisor d of |G|.
(e)→(a): For any prime p dividing |G|, the Sylow p-subgroup is normal. Thus we can apply (c) (since we already proved (c)→(e)).
Statement (d) can be extended to infinite groups: if G is a nilpotent group, then every Sylow subgroup Gp of G is normal, and the direct product of these Sylow subgroups is the subgroup of all elements of finite order in G (see torsion subgroup).
Many properties of nilpotent groups are shared by hypercentral groups.