# Section 10: Counting the Elements of a Finite Group

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1 Section 10: Counting the Elements of a Finite Group Let G be a group and H a subgroup. Because the right cosets are the family of equivalence classes with respect to an equivalence relation on G, it follows that the right cosets of H in G form a partition of G (and similarly for the left cosets). Each right coset has the same cardinality as H itself, because H Ha : h ha is one-to-one and onto. Moreover (and this is almost the only time that we will use both the left and right cosets at the same time), there is a one-to-one correspondence from the set of right cosets to the set of left cosets, given by Ha a 1 H. (It is necessary to throw in the inverse here to make the correspondence well-defined: If Ha = Hb, then we may have ah bh, but because ab 1 H, we also have (b 1 ) 1 a 1 = ba 1 = (ab 1 ) 1 H, and hence a 1 H = b 1 H. For an example of this, see the last example in the notes for Section 9: We have g f = g f 4 g, f g = f 4 g g and f 1 g = f 4 g = f 4 g g = (f 4 g) 1 g.) Thus the cardinalities of the sets of right cosets and left cosets are equal. We denote this common cardinality by [G : H] and call it the index of H in G. If G is a finite group, then this index is surely finite; if G is infinite, then it could be finite or infinite. ([Z : 5Z] = 5; [ Q : Z] is infinite.) Suppose now that G is a finite group, with a subgroup H. Then [G : H] is also finite, say n, and, picking one element a i, i = 1, 2,..., n, from each of the right cosets of H in G, we get G = Ha 1 + Ha Ha n = n H. (A set like {a 1, a 2,..., a n }, one from each coset, is called a set of coset representatives of H; such a set doesn t have much structure it s usually just a convenient way to list the cosets of H.) We ve proved a useful and important theorem: Lagrange s Thm: Let H be a subgroup of a finite group G. Then G = H [G : H]. In particular, the order of any subgroup or element of G divides the order of G. Ex: For any cyclic group x with order n and any divisor d of n, there is exactly one subgroup x n/d of order d. Ex: Q 8 has one subgroup of order 1 ( I ), one of order 2 ( I ), three of order 4 ( J, K, and L ), and one of order 8 (Q 8 itself). Ex: S n has order n!, and it has elements of orders 1 through n, namely 1-cycles, 2-cycles, and so on up to n-cycles. It also has subgroups of 2n, namely D n, and n!/2, namely A n. A fair question is: If d is a factor of G, must there be at least one subgroup of order d? It turns out there is such a subgroup if d is a power of a prime number; but for a general d there may not be a subgroup. In particular, we ll see that A 4, which has 4!/2 = 12 elements, has no subgroup of 6 elements. Cor: If a group has order a prime number, then the group is cyclic, generated by any non-identity element of the group. Pf: Let G be a group for which G = p, a prime number, and let g G {e}. Then g is a nontrivial subgroup of G, and its order divides G = p, so its order is p, so g = G.// Here is a general result, also a corollary of Lagrange s theorem, that yields as a corollary a result named for Euler, which in turn yields as a corollary a result named for Fermat. The proofs, as befits corollaries, are very short: First, the order of every element in a finite group divides the 1

2 order of the group. Second, the set of elements of Z n that are relatively prime to n form a group under multiplication mod n; the number of such elements, i.e., the order of this group, is denoted by ϕ(n) and called the Euler phi-function of n. Third, if n is a prime p, then the only element of Z p that is not relatively prime to p is 0, so ϕ(p) = p 1. And recall that a b mod n means that the integers a, b have the same remainder on long division by the positive integer n; i.e., that a, b represent the same element of Z n. Cor: If G is a finite group, then for every x in G, x G = e. Euler s Thm: If k is an integer relatively prime to the positive integer n, then k ϕ(n) 1 mod n. Fermat s Thm: If k is an integer not divisible by the prime p, then k p 1 1 mod p. So, for example, for every element f of S n, f n! = e; and because ϕ(6) = 2, mod 6; and mod 7. Another handy equation for establishing facts about a finite group is called the class equation of the group. Again, it will follow quickly once we have set up the machinery that goes into it. We begin with a fact that may have already suggested itself to you. Recall that we say an element g of a group G is called conjugate (in G) to another element h if there is an element x of G for which xgx 1 = h. The proof of the following result is a good exercise. Lemma: Is conjugate (in G) to is an equivalence relation on G. Hence, G is partitioned into conjugacy classes, each consisting of the elements that are conjugate to each other. Unlike cosets, these conjugacy classes need not have the same number of elements; but at least there is a way to write down how many elements there are in a given conjugacy class. Recall that, if g is an element of a group G, then the set of elements x of G that commute with g, i.e., for which xg = gx, forms a subgroup Z(g) called the centralizer of g. Lemma: Two elements x, y of G have the property that xgx 1 = ygy 1 iff x, y are in the same left coset of Z(G) in G. Hence, the number of elements in the conjugacy class of g is equal to the index [G : Z(g)] (and hence, if G is finite, it divides G ). Pf: The first sentence just uses the definition of left coset: xgx 1 = ygy 1 y 1 xg = gy 1 x y 1 x Z(g) xz(g) = yz(g). The second sentence follows immediately, because all the elements of a given left coset of Z(g) conjugate g to the same element of G, and different cosets correspond to different conjugates of g.// Now to say that an element g of G has only one conjugate (which must be itself) is to say that G commutes with every element of G, i.e., that g Z(G), the center of G. Thus, Z(G) is the union of all the one-element conjugacy classes in G. Class Equation: Let G be a finite group, and take one element g 1, g 2,..., g s out of each of the conjugacy classes of G that have at least two elements. Then s G = Z(G) + [G : Z(g i )]. 2 i=1

3 Pf: Because the conjugacy classes partition G, we know that the order of G is the sum of the cardinalities of all of the conjugacy classes. If we group together the one-element conjugacy classes into Z(G), each of the remaining conjugacy classes has at least two elements, and we have chosen one of these elements to be g i, say. And we have seen above that the cardinality of the conjugacy class containing g i is the index of Z(g i ) in G.// It is useful to note that we have specifically arranged in this equation that none of the indices [G : Z(g i )] is a 1. Let us look at one example, and then prove a result using this equation. Ex: In D 6, the only elements that commute with every element are e, f 3, so they constitute Z(D 6 ). Now gfg 1 = gfg = f 5 gg = f 5, so f, f 5 are in the same conjugacy class. Now Z(f) contains f itself and hence all of f (including f 3 = Z(D 6 )), but it is not all of D 6, so Z(f) is divisible by f = 6 and properly divides D 6 = 12, i.e., it is 6; and so the cardinality of the conjugacy class containing f is [D 6 : Z(f)] = 12/6 = 2; i.e., this class is {f, f 5 }. Similarly, {f 2, f 4 } is another conjugacy class. And Z(g) contains Z(D 6 ) and g and is not all of D 6, so its order, a proper divisor of 12 divisible by {e, f 3, g, f 3 g} = 4, is 4; and hence the number of conjugates of g is [D 6 : Z(g)] = 12/4 = 3. We have fgf 1 = f 2 g and f 2 gf 2 = f 4 g, so that the conjugacy class of g is {g, f 2 g, f 4 g}. And the remaining conjugacy class is {fg, f 3 g, f 5 g}. We have sorted all the elements into their conjugacy classes, and one set of representatives of the conjugacy classes that have more than one element is {f, f 2, g, fg}: D 6 = {e, f 3 } {f, f 5 } {f 2, f 4 } {g, f 2 g, f 4 g} {fg, f 3 g, f 5 g} D 6 = Z(D 6 ) + [D 4 : Z(f)] + [D 5 : Z(f 2 )] + [D 5 : Z(g)] + [D 6 : Z(fg)] 12 = That last equation was not very interesting, so it may be hard to see what good the class equation does. Here s one use of it in proving a useful fact: Prop: If G is a power of a prime number, then Z(G) is not trivial. If G is the square of a prime number, then G is abelian. Pf: Suppose first that G = p n where p is a prime. Then both G and all of the [G : Z(g i ] in the class equation are powers of p, the only divisors of p n, and none of the factors [G : Z(g i )] are 1, so they are all divisible by p. Thus, the only remaining term in the class equation, Z(G), must be divisible by p also, so Z(G) cannot be trivial. Now suppose that G = p 2. We have just shown that Z(G) has either p or p 2 elements, and we want to prove it must be p 2. So assume not, by way of contradiction, and take an element g in G Z(G). Then Z(g) contains at least Z(G) and g; so it has more than p elements, and hence it has p 2 elements. But that means g commutes with every element of G, i.e., g Z(G), contradicting our choice of g and completing the proof.// Thus, with a little more work, we can show that the only essentially different groups of order (cardinality) a square of a prime p are Z p 2 and Z p Z p. Lemma: If (k 1, k 2,..., k r ) is an r-cycle in S n and ϕ S n, then ϕ (k 1, k 2,..., k r ) ϕ 1 = (ϕ(k 1 ), ϕ(k 2 ),..., ϕ(k r )), another r-cycle. Thus, if two elements of S n are conjugate in a subgroup of S n, then their disjoint cycle decompositions have the same numbers of r-cycles for each positive integer r. The converse 3 ( )

4 is true in S n (but it may not be true in a subgroup, because the ϕ that is necessary to conjugate one element into another with a matching disjoint cycle decomposition may not exist in the subgroup). Pf: We show that both sides of ( ) have the same effect on an element j of {1, 2,..., n}, considering two cases: where j is one of the ϕ(k i ) s, i = 1,..., r, and where j is not one of the ϕ(k i ) s. If j = ϕ(k i ), then clearly the right side of ( ) takes it to ϕ(k i+1 ); while the left side takes it, first to k i, then to k i+1 [or to k 1, if i = r we won t bother to mention this case again], then to ϕ(k i+1 ); so the results are the same in this case. If j is not one of the ϕ(k i ) s, then the right side of the equation takes it to itself; while the left side takes it first to ϕ 1 (j) which is not one of the k i s, because ϕ 1 is one-to-one then to ϕ 1 (j) again (because it is not one of the k i s, so the r-cycle doesn t move it), then to ϕ(ϕ 1 (j)) = j; so the results are also the same in this case. Equation ( ) follows. Thus, if an element α of S n can be written as α = γ 1 γ 2... γ s where the γ i s are disjoint cycles, then ϕαϕ 1 = (ϕγ 1 ϕ 1 )(ϕγ 2 ϕ 1 )... (ϕγ s ϕ 1 ), and by equation ( ) each of the (ϕγ i ϕ 1 ) s is a cycle of the same length as the corresponding γ i ; and the (ϕγ 1 ϕ 1 ) s are still disjoint because ϕ is one-to-one. For the converse in the context of S n, suppose we have two elements α, β for which the disjoint cycle decompositions have the same number of cycles of each length. Then if we arrange the cycles in both factorizations so that, say, the 1-cycles come first, the 2-cycles next, the 3-cycles next, and so on, and then let ϕ be the function that assigns the first entry that appears in α to the first in β, the second in α to the second in β, and so on, then we will have ϕαϕ 1 = β.// To see by example how the construction of the necessary ϕ in the last paragraph would work, let us take α = (1, 2)(3, 4, 5) = (6)(7)(1, 2)(3, 4, 5) and β = (4)(6)(3, 1)(2, 5, 7) in S 7. If we set ( ) ϕ =, then we have ϕαϕ 1 = β. But we can write α and β in many different ways, even without disturbing the setup where the 1-cycles come first, the 2-cycles next, etc. If we rewrite β as (6)(4)(1, 3)(5, 7, 2), then the method above gives a new ϕ, namely ( ) ϕ =, and we still have ϕαϕ 1 = β. (Apparently the old ϕ and the new one are in the same left coset of the centralizer of α.) So the ϕ is not unique, and we may be able to pick one that has some other property, e.g., one that is in some subgroup G of S n that also contains α, β, so that α, β are also conjugate in G. Ex: It is left to the students of combinatorics in the class to see that, in S 5, the cardinalities of the conjugacy classes are as follows: the cardinality of the single-element class {e} is 1; the 2-cycles form a conjugacy class of (5 4)/2 = 10 elements; the 3-cycles form a conjugacy class of (5 4 3)/3 = 20 elements; 4

5 the 4-cycles form a conjugacy class of ( )/4 = 30 elements; the 5-cycles form a conjugacy class of 5!/5 = 24 elements; the products of two disjoint 2-cycles form a conjugacy class of ( )/(2 2 2) = 15 elements; the products of a 3-cycle and a 2-cycle which are disjoint form a conjugacy class of 5!/(3 2) = 20 elements; so the class equation for S 5 is 120 =

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