For other meanings see Subgroup (disambiguation).

In group theory, a branch of mathematics, given a group G under a binary operation ∗, a subset H of G is called a subgroup of G if H also forms a group under the operation ∗. More precisely, H is a subgroup of G if the restriction of ∗ to H × H is a group operation on H. This is usually denoted HG, read as "H is a subgroup of G".

The trivial subgroup of any group is the subgroup {e} consisting of just the identity element.

A proper subgroup of a group G is a subgroup H which is a proper subset of G (i.e. HG). This is usually represented notationally by H < G, read as "H is a proper subgroup of G". Some authors also exclude the trivial group from being proper (i.e. {e} ≠ HG).[1][2]

If H is a subgroup of G, then G is sometimes called an overgroup of H.

The same definitions apply more generally when G is an arbitrary semigroup, but this article will only deal with subgroups of groups. The group G is sometimes denoted by the ordered pair (G, ∗), usually to emphasize the operation ∗ when G carries multiple algebraic or other structures.

This article will write ab for ab, as is usual.

Basic properties of subgroups

G is the group , the integers mod 8 under addition. The subgroup H contains only 0 and 4, and is isomorphic to . There are four left cosets of H: H itself, 1+H, 2+H, and 3+H (written using additive notation since this is an additive group). Together they partition the entire group G into equal-size, non-overlapping sets. The index [G : H] is 4.

Cosets and Lagrange's theorem

Given a subgroup H and some a in G, we define the left coset aH = {ah : h in H}. Because a is invertible, the map φ : HaH given by φ(h) = ah is a bijection. Furthermore, every element of G is contained in precisely one left coset of H; the left cosets are the equivalence classes corresponding to the equivalence relation a1 ~ a2 if and only if a1−1a2 is in H. The number of left cosets of H is called the index of H in G and is denoted by [G : H].

Lagrange's theorem states that for a finite group G and a subgroup H,

where |G| and |H| denote the orders of G and H, respectively. In particular, the order of every subgroup of G (and the order of every element of G) must be a divisor of |G|.

Right cosets are defined analogously: Ha = {ha : h in H}. They are also the equivalence classes for a suitable equivalence relation and their number is equal to [G : H].

If aH = Ha for every a in G, then H is said to be a normal subgroup. Every subgroup of index 2 is normal: the left cosets, and also the right cosets, are simply the subgroup and its complement. More generally, if p is the lowest prime dividing the order of a finite group G, then any subgroup of index p (if such exists) is normal.

Example: Subgroups of Z8

Let G be the cyclic group Z8 whose elements are

and whose group operation is addition modulo eight. Its Cayley table is

+ 0 2 4 6 1 3 5 7
0 0 2 4 6 1 3 5 7
2 2 4 6 0 3 5 7 1
4 4 6 0 2 5 7 1 3
6 6 0 2 4 7 1 3 5
1 1 3 5 7 2 4 6 0
3 3 5 7 1 4 6 0 2
5 5 7 1 3 6 0 2 4
7 7 1 3 5 0 2 4 6

This group has two nontrivial subgroups: J={0,4} and H={0,2,4,6}, where J is also a subgroup of H. The Cayley table for H is the top-left quadrant of the Cayley table for G. The group G is cyclic, and so are its subgroups. In general, subgroups of cyclic groups are also cyclic.

Example: Subgroups of S4 (the symmetric group on 4 elements)

Every group has as many small subgroups as neutral elements on the main diagonal:

The trivial group and two-element groups Z2. These small subgroups are not counted in the following list.

The symmetric group S4 showing all permutations of 4 elements
9 kinds of subgroups
30 individual subgroups

12 elements

The alternating group A4 showing only the even permutations


8 elements

Dihedral group of order 8

Dihedral group of order 8


6 elements

Symmetric group S3

Symmetric group S3

Symmetric group S3


4 elements

Klein four-group
Klein four-group
Klein four-group
Cyclic group Z4
Cyclic group Z4

3 elements

Cyclic group Z3
Cyclic group Z3
Cyclic group Z3

Other examples

See also


  1. Hungerford (1974), p. 32
  2. Artin (2011), p. 43
  3. Jacobson (2009), p. 41


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