# Order (group theory)

In group theory, a branch of mathematics, the **order of a group** is its cardinality, that is, the number of elements in its set. If the group is seen multiplicatively, the **order of an element** *a* of a group, sometimes also called the **period length** or **period** of *a*, is the smallest positive integer *m* such that *a*^{m} = *e*, where *e* denotes the identity element of the group, and *a*^{m} denotes the product of *m* copies of *a*. If no such *m* exists, *a* is said to have infinite order.

Lagrange's theorem states that for any subgroup *H* of *G*, the order of the subgroup divides the order of the group: |*H*| is a divisor of |G|. In particular, the order |*a*| of any element is a divisor of |*G*|.

This group has six elements, so ord(S_{3}) = 6. By definition, the order of the identity, *e*, is one, since *e* ^{1} = *e*. Each of *s*, *t*, and *w* squares to *e*, so these group elements have order two: |*s*| = |*t*| = |*w*| = 2. Finally, *u* and *v* have order 3, since *u*^{3} = *vu* = *e*, and *v*^{3} = *uv* = *e*.

The order of a group *G* and the orders of its elements give much information about the structure of the group. Roughly speaking, the more complicated the factorization of |*G*|, the more complicated the structure of *G*.

The relationship between the two concepts of order is the following: if we write

In general, the order of any subgroup of *G* divides the order of *G*. More precisely: if *H* is a subgroup of *G*, then

As an immediate consequence of the above, we see that the order of every element of a group divides the order of the group. For example, in the symmetric group shown above, where ord(S_{3}) = 6, the possible orders of the elements are 1, 2, 3 or 6.

The following partial converse is true for finite groups: if *d* divides the order of a group *G* and *d* is a prime number, then there exists an element of order *d* in *G* (this is sometimes called Cauchy's theorem). The statement does not hold for composite orders, e.g. the Klein four-group does not have an element of order four). This can be shown by inductive proof.^{[1]} The consequences of the theorem include: the order of a group *G* is a power of a prime *p* if and only if ord(*a*) is some power of *p* for every *a* in *G*.^{[2]}

If *a* has infinite order, then all non-zero powers of *a* have infinite order as well. If *a* has finite order, we have the following formula for the order of the powers of *a*:

for every integer *k*. In particular, *a* and its inverse *a*^{−1} have the same order.

Suppose *G* is a finite group of order *n*, and *d* is a divisor of *n*. The number of order-*d*-elements in *G* is a multiple of φ(*d*) (possibly zero), where φ is Euler's totient function, giving the number of positive integers no larger than *d* and coprime to it. For example, in the case of S_{3}, φ(3) = 2, and we have exactly two elements of order 3. The theorem provides no useful information about elements of order 2, because φ(2) = 1, and is only of limited utility for composite *d* such as *d*=6, since φ(6)=2, and there are zero elements of order 6 in S_{3}.

Group homomorphisms tend to reduce the orders of elements: if *f*: *G* → *H* is a homomorphism, and *a* is an element of *G* of finite order, then ord(*f*(*a*)) divides ord(*a*). If *f* is injective, then ord(*f*(*a*)) = ord(*a*). This can often be used to prove that there are no (injective) homomorphisms between two concretely given groups. (For example, there can be no nontrivial homomorphism *h*: S_{3} → **Z**_{5}, because every number except zero in **Z**_{5} has order 5, which does not divide the orders 1, 2, and 3 of elements in S_{3}.) A further consequence is that conjugate elements have the same order.

An important result about orders is the class equation; it relates the order of a finite group *G* to the order of its center Z(*G*) and the sizes of its non-trivial conjugacy classes:

where the *d _{i}* are the sizes of the non-trivial conjugacy classes; these are proper divisors of |

*G*| bigger than one, and they are also equal to the indices of the centralizers in

*G*of the representatives of the non-trivial conjugacy classes. For example, the center of S

_{3}is just the trivial group with the single element

*e*, and the equation reads |S

_{3}| = 1+2+3.