# 6 Commutators and the derived series. [x,y] = xyx 1 y 1.

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1 6 Commutators and the derived series Definition. Let G be a group, and let x,y G. The commutator of x and y is [x,y] = xyx 1 y 1. Note that [x,y] = e if and only if xy = yx (since x 1 y 1 = (yx) 1 ). Proposition 33. Let G be a group, and let N G. Then G/N is abelian if and only if [x,y] N for all x,y G. Proof. Suppose [x,y] / N. Then in G/N we have [xn,yn] = xnynx 1 Ny 1 N = [x,y]n N. So [xn,yn] e G/N, and so xn and yn do not commute. Conversely, if [x,y] N for all x,y, then [xn,yn] = e G/N for all x,y G, and so G/N is abelian. Definition. Let G be a group, and let X,Y G. We write [X,Y] for the subgroup of G generated by the commutators {[x,y] x X,y Y }. We write G for [G,G], the derived subgroup or commutator subgroup of G. Remarks. 1. Important! The product of two commutators need not itself be a commutator, and so the set of all commutators in G is not necessarily a subgroup. To put this another way, the derived group G may contain elements which are not commutators. 2. The inverse of the commutator [x,y] is a commutator, namely [y,x]. So if X,Y G then [X,Y] = [Y,X]. 3. If X G and Y G, then [X,Y] X, since xyx 1 y 1 = x y x 1. Proposition 34. Let G be a group. If X,Y G then [X,Y] G. In particular, G G. Proof. Let g G, and let x X, y Y. Then g [x,y] = g (xyx 1 y 1 ) = g x g y g x 1 g y 1 = [ g x, g y]. Since X and Y are normal, g x X and g y Y, and so g [x,y] [X,Y]. Now suppose that z [X,Y]. Then z = [x 1,y 1 ][x 2,y 2 ] [x k,y k ], for some x 1,...,x k X and y 1,...,y k Y. Now g z = g [x 1,y 1 ] g[x k,y k ] [X,Y], as required. 24

2 Remark. By Proposition 33, we see that G is the unique smallest normal subgroup of G such that G/G is abelian. (For N G, we have that G/N is abelian if and only if G N.) The quotient G/G is called the abelianization of G, written G ab. Definition. A subgroup H of G is characteristic if ϕ(h) = H for every ϕ Aut(G). We write Achar G. This is a strengthening of the condition for normality. To be a normal subgroup, H has only to be invariant under the inner automorphisms. Proposition 35. If A, B char G then [A, B] char G. Proof. Same as Proposition 34. Proposition 36. Let G be a group. 1. If N G and X char N, then X G. 2. If N char G and X char N then X char G. Proof. If α(n) = N, then the restriction α N of α to N is an automorphism of N. So if X char N, then α(x) = α N (X) = X. It follows that if N G, then X is invariant under all inner automorphisms of G, and so X G. If N char G then X is invariant under all automorphisms of G, and so X char G. Warning. It is possible that N char G and X N, but X G. An example is G = S 4, N = V 4, and X = (12)(34). Definition. The derived series of a group G is the series of subgroups G (0) G (1) defined by G (0) = G, G (i+1) = [G (i),g (i) ]. Proposition 37. G (i) char G for all i. Proof. We use induction. Certainly G (0) = Gchar G. Suppose that G (i) char G. Since G (i+1) is the derived subgroup of G (i), we have G (i+1) char G (i) by Proposition 35. So G (i+1) char G by Proposition Examples. 1. Let A be abelian. Then [a,b] = e for all a,b A, and so the derived series of A is A {e} {e}. 25

3 2. Let G = D 2n, and let C n be the rotation subgroup of G. For d dividing n, let C d be the unique subgroup of C n of order d. Let x G be a generator of C n. Since G/C n has order 2, it is abelian, and so we have G C n. Let y be a reflection. Then [x,y] = xyx 1 y 1 = x 2. It follows that x 2 G. So G is either equal to C n or to x 2. If n is odd, then x 2 = C n, and so the derived series for D 2n in this case is D 2n C n {e}. If n is even then x 2 = C n/2. Now G/C n/2 has order 4, and so it is abelian. Hence G C n/2, and it follows that G = C n/2. The derived series for D 2n in this case is D 2n C n/2 {e}. 3. Since S 4 /A 4 is abelian, we have S 4 A 4. But S 4 /V 4 = S3 is not abelian, and so S 4 V 4. So S 4 is a normal subgroup of S 4 contained in A 4 but not V 4, and therefore we have S 4 = A 4. Similarly, we see that A 4 /V 4 is abelian, but A 4 /{e} is not. So A 4 is a normal subgroup of A 4 contained in V 4 but not {e}, and hence A 4 = V 4. So the derived series of S 4 is S 4 A 4 V 4 {e}. 4. The normal subgroups of S 5 are S 5, A 5 and {e}. The smallest normal subgroup giving an abelian quotient group is A 5. So S 5 = A 5. Now A 5 is simple, and so A 5 is {e} or A 5. Since A 5 /{e} is not abelian, we have A 5 = A 5. So the derived series of S 5 is S 5 A 5 A 5. The derived series of S n for n > 5 is similar. Proposition 38. Let G be a finite group. Then G is soluble if and only if {e} appears in the derived series of G. Proof. Since G is finite, there exists some i such that G (i) = G (i+1). Clearly we now have G (k) = G (i) for all k i, and so {e} appears in the derived series if and only if G (i) = {e}. Suppose that G (i) {e}. Let G (i) = H 0 > H 1 > > H k = {e} be a composition series for G (i). Since G (i+1) H 1, and since G (i+1) is the derived subgroup of G (i), it follows that H 0 /H 1 is non-abelian. So G (i ) is not soluble. Now we see that G is not soluble, by Proposition 32. Now suppose that G (i) = {e}. By repeated application of Proposition 28.2, there exists a composition series for G which includes G ( j) for all j i. But now it is clear that all of the composition factors are abelian, since G ( j) /G ( j+1) is abelian for all j. So G is soluble. 26

4 Remark. Proposition 38 suggests a way of defining solubility for infinite groups. For an arbitrary G, we say that G is soluble if G (i) = {e} for some i N. This agrees with our earlier definition when G is finite. 7 The lower central series and nilpotent groups Definition. Let G be a group. The lower central series of G is the series γ 1 (G) γ 2 (G) defined by γ 1 (G) = G, γ i+1 (G) = [γ i (G),G]. Remark. Comparing the definitions of the derived series and the lower central series, it is clear that γ 1 (G) = G (0) = G and γ 2 (G) = G (1) = G. Beyond this the series are not generally equal. In the proof of Proposition 39 below we shall show that γ i+1 (G) G (i) for all i. Warning. Note that the lower central series conventionally starts with γ 1, not γ 0. (There is a good reason for this; see Theorem 43 below.) Examples. 1. If A is abelian, then γ 1 (A) = A, and γ i (A) = {e} for i Let G = D 2n, and let C d be the rotation subgroup of order d, for d dividing n. We have seen that { γ 2 (G) = G Cn if n is odd, = if n is even. C n/2 Now let x be any rotation in G, and let g G. We have { e if g is a rotation, [a,g] = a 2 if g is a reflection. It follows that [C d,g] = { Cd if d is odd, C d/2 if d is even. This allows us to write down the lower central series for D 2n easily. For instance, the lower central series for D 16 and D 24 are D 16 > C 4 > C 2 > {e} >, D 24 > C 6 > C 3 > C 3 >. 27

5 Definition. A group G is nilpotent if its lower central series includes {e}. If γ c+1 (G) = {e}, and if c is the smallest number for which this is the case, then G has nilpotency class c. So D 16 is nilpotent of class 3, while D 24 is not nilpotent. The trivial group is the unique group with nilpotency class 0; a group has nilpotency class 1 if and only if it is a non-trivial abelian group. Proposition 39. Any nilpotent group is soluble. Proof. We first that G (i) γ i+1 (G) for all i 0. This is certainly the case for i = 0, since G (0) = γ 1 (G) = G. Suppose that G (i) γ i+1 (G) for some i. Then G (i+1) = [G (i),g (i) ] [γ i+1 (G),G] = γ i+2 (G), as required. (Here we have used the obvious fact that if A C and B D then [A,B] [C,D].) Now if G is nilpotent, then γ c+1 (G) = {e} for some c. But then G (c) = {e}, and so G is soluble. Remark. We have seen that D 24 is soluble but not nilpotent. So nilpotency is a stronger condition than solubility. Proposition 40. Let N G. Then [N,G] is the smallest normal subgroup of G contained in N, such that N/K is central in G/K. (That is, N/K is contained in the centre of G/K.) Proof. We certainly have that [N,G] is a normal subgroup of G, by Proposition 34, and it is contained in N since N is normal. Let K G, with K N. For x N we have xk Z(G/K) xkgk = gkxk [x,g] K for all g G, and so xk is central in G/K if and only if [N,G] K. Corollary 41. γ i (G)/γ i+1 (G) is central in G/γ i+1 (G) for all i. Examples. 1. We already know γ 1 (S 4 ) = S 4 and γ 2 (S 4 ) = A 4, since the lower central series agrees with the derived series in its first two terms. Now γ 3 (S 4 ) is a subgroup K, normal in S 4 and contained in A 4, and such that A 4 /K is central in S 4 /K. But of the normal subgroups of S 4, we see that A 4 /{e} is not central in S 4 /{e} and A 4 /V 4 is not central in S 4 /V 4. So we have γ 3 (S 4 ) = A 4. So the lower central series of S 4 is S 4 A 4 A We have γ 1 (A 4 ) = A 4, and γ 2 (A 4 ) = [A 4,A 4 ] = V 4. Now γ 3 (A 4 ) is a normal subgroup of A 4 contained in V 4, and so it is either {e} or V 4. But V 4 /{e} is not central in A 4 /{e}. So γ 3 (A 4 ) = V 4, and the lower central series for A 4 is A 4 V 4 V 4. 28

6 Remark. If H is in the derived series for G, then the series for G below H is the same as the derived series for H. This is not true for the lower central series (see the case of S 4 and A 4 above). Unlike the derived series, the recursion which defines successive terms of the lower central series involves the starting point for the series, as well as the current term. Proposition 42. γ i (G)char G for all i. Proof. This is an easy induction, using Proposition 35. Theorem 43 For any i, j N, we have [γ i (G),γ j (G)] γ i+ j (G). The proof of Theorem 43 is a little intricate, and relies on two preliminary lemmas. Lemma 44 (Witt s Lemma). Let G be a group, and let a,b,c G. Then a [[a 1,b],c] c [[c 1,a],b] b [[b 1,c],a] = e. Proof. Multiplying out the left-hand side, we get (aa 1 bab 1 cba 1 b 1 ac 1 a 1 )(cc 1 aca 1 bac 1 a 1 cb 1 c 1 )(bb 1 cbc 1 acb 1 c 1 ba 1 b 1 ), in which all the terms cancel. Lemma 45 (Three subgroup lemma). Let G be a group, and let A,B,C be subgroups. Let N G. If [[A,B],C] N and [[C,A],B] N, then [[B,C],A] N. Proof. By definition, [[B,C],A] is generated by the elements [x,a] with x [B,C] and a A. Any element x [B,C] is a product of commutators [b,c] with b B and c C. Now we observe that the identity [xy,a] = x [y,a] [x,a] holds for all x,y,a G; this is easily verified by writing out the commutators explicitly. It follows that [[B,C],A] can be generated by elements of the form z [[b,c],a], where a A, b B, c C and z [B,C]. Take an arbitrary commutator [b 1,c],a] [[B,C],A]. Then ( ) 1 b [[b 1,c],a] = a [[a 1,b],c] c [[c 1,a],b], by Witt s Lemma. Now [[a 1,b],c] [[A,B],C] N, and since N is normal, we have a [[a 1,b],c] N. Similarly c [[c 1,a],b] N, and so b [[b 1,c],a] N. But N is normal, and so z [[b 1,c],a] N for all z G (and in particular, for all z [B,C]. 29

7 Since the elements z [[b 1,c],a] generate [[B,C],A], we have [[B,C],A] N. Proof of Theorem 43. We work by induction on j, the inductive hypothesis being P( j): for all i, [γ i (G),γ j (G)] γ i+ j (G). We see that P(1) is true, since [γ i (G),γ 1 (G)] = [γ i (G),G] = γ i+1 (G). Suppose inductively that P( j) is true. Consider the three subgroup lemma with A = γ i (G), B = γ j (G), C = G, N = γ i+ j+1 (G). Invoking P( j), we see that [[A,B],C] = [[γ i,γ j ],G] [γ i+ j (G),G] = γ i+ j+1 (G) = N, [[C,A],B] = [[G,γ i (G)],γ j (G)] = [γ i+1 (G),γ j (G)] = [γ j (G),γ i+1 (G)] γ i+ j+1 (G) = N. So the conditions of the Three subgroup lemma are fulfilled, and thus we have [[B,C],A] N. Hence for all i we have [γ j+1 (G),γ i (G)] = [[γ j (G),G],γ i (G)] γ i+ j+1 (G), which establishes P j+1. Definition. Let G be a group. A series of subgroups G = G 0 > G 1 > > G k = {e} such that G i /G i+1 is central in G/G i+1 for all i is called a central series for G. The length of the central series is k. Warning. The lower central series is only a central series when G is nilpotent. (This, unfortunately, is standard terminology.) Proposition 46. Let G be a group, and let {G i } be a central series for G. Then γ i+1 (G) G i for all i. Proof. We use induction on i. Certainly we have γ 1 (G) = G = G 0. Suppose that γ i+1 (G) G i for some i. Then γ i+2 (G) = [γ i+1 (G),G] [G i,g]. But [G i,g] G i+1 by Proposition 40, since G i /G i+1 Z(G/G i+1 ). Corollary 47. If G has a central series, then G is nilpotent. 30

8 Proof. Let {G i } be a central series of length k. Then γ k+1 (G) G k = {e}, and so γ k+1 (G) = {e}. So G is nilpotent. Definition. Let G be a group. The upper central series for G is the series defined by {e} = Z 0 (G) Z 1 (G), Z 0 (G) = {e}, Z i+1 (G) Z i (G) = Z ( ) G. Z i (G) Note that in the correspondence given by Proposition 2, Z i+1 is the subgroup of G corresponding to the centre of G/Z i (G), and so this definition makes sense. Remark. Since Z 1 (G)/{e} = Z(G/{e}), it is clear that Z 1 (G) = Z(G). The subgroup Z i (G) is sometimes called the i-th centre of G. Warning. The upper central series is a central series (in reverse) only if Z k (G) = G for some k N. As we shall see, this is the case if and only if G is nilpotent. Proposition 48. Let G be a group, and let {G i } be a central series for G of length k. Then G k i Z i (G) for 0 i k. Proof. We work by induction on i. Certainly we have G k 0 = {e} = Z 0 (G). Suppose that G k i Z i (G) for some i. Since G k i 1 G k i ( ) G Z, G k i we have [G k i 1,G] G k i by Proposition 40. So [G k i 1,G] Z i (G), and so ( ) G k i 1 G Z i (G) Z, Z i (G) by Proposition 40 again. So G k i 1 Z i+1 (G). 31

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