# Free groups. Contents. 1 Free groups. 1.1 Definitions and notations

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1 Free groups Contents 1 Free groups Definitions and notations Construction of a free group with basis X The universal property of free groups Presentations of groups Rank of free groups Free groups 1.1 Definitions and notations Let G be a group. If H is a subgroup of G then we write H G; if H is a normal subgroup of G we write H G. For a subset A G by A we denote the subgroup of G generated by A (the intersection of all subgroups of G containing A). It is easy to see that A = {a ε 1 i 1,..., a εn i n a ij A, ε j {1, 1}, n N} To treat expressions like a ε 1 i 1,..., a ε n in a little bit more formally we need some terminology. Let X be an arbitrary set. A word in X is a finite sequence of elements (perhaps, empty) w which we write as w = y 1... y n ( y i X). The number n is called the length of the word w, we denote it by w. We denote the empty word by ɛ and put ɛ = 0. Consider X 1 = {x 1 x X}, where x 1 is just a formal expression obtained from x and 1. If x X then the symbols x and x 1 are called literals in X. Denote by X ±1 = X X 1 1

2 2 the set of all literals in X. For a literal y X ±1 we define y 1 as { y 1 x = 1, if y = x X; x, if y = x 1 X. An expression of the type w = x ε 1 i 1 x ε n in (x ij X, ε j {1, 1}), (1) is called a group word in X. So a group word in X is just a word in the alphabet X ±1. A group word w = y 1... y n, (y i X ±1 ) is reduced if for any i = i,..., n 1 y i y 1 i+1, i.e., w does not contain a subword of the type yy 1 for a literal y X ±1. We assume also that the empty word is reduced. If X G then every group word w = x ε 1 i 1 x εn i n element from G which is equal to the product x ε 1 i 1 x εn i n x ε j i j G. in X determines a unique of the elements In particular, the empty word ɛ determines the identity 1 of G. Definition 1 A group G is called a free group if there exists a generating set X of G such that every non-empty reduced group word in X defines a non-trivial element of G. In this event X is called a free basis of G and G is called free on X or freely generated by X. It follows from the definition that every element of a free group on X can be defined by a reduced group word on X. Moreover, different reduced words on X define different elements in G. We will say more about this in the next section. 1.2 Construction of a free group with basis X Let X be an arbitrary set. In this section we construct the canonical free group with basis X. To this end we need to describe a reduction process which allows one to obtain a reduced word from an arbitrary word. An elementary reduction of a group word w consists of deleting a subword of the type yy 1 (y X ±1 ) from w. For example, suppose w = uyy 1 v for some words u, v in X ±1. Then the elementary reduction of w with respect to the given subword yy 1 results in the word uv. In this event we write uyy 1 v uv.

3 3 A reduction of w ( or a reduction process starting at w) consists of consequent applications of elementary reductions starting at w and ending at a reduced word: w w 1 w n, (w n is reduced). The word w n is termed a reduced form of w. In general, there may be different possible reductions of w. Nevertheless, it turns out that all possible reductions of w end up with the same reduced form. To see this we need the following lemma. Lemma 1 For any two elementary reductions w w 1 and w w 2 of a group word w in X there exist elementary reductions w 1 w 0 and w 2 w 0, so the following diagram commutes: Proof Let w λ 1 w 1, and w λ 2 w 2 be elementary reductions of a word w. There are two possible ways to carry out the reductions λ 1 and λ 2. Case a) (disjoint reductions). In this case w = u 1 y 1 y 1 1 u 2 y 2 y 1 2 u 3, (y i X ±1 ) and λ i deletes the subword y i y 1 i, i = 1, 2. Then w λ 1 u 1 u 2 y 2 y2 1 λ u 2 3 u1 u 2 u 3 w λ 2 u 1 y 1 y1 1 λ u 2 u 1 3 u1 u 2 u 3. Hence the lemma holds. Case b) (overlapping reductions). In this case y 1 = y 2 and w takes on the following form w = u 1 yy 1 yu 2.

4 4 Then and the lemma holds. w = u 1 y(y 1 λ y)u 2 2 u1 yu 2, w = u 1 (yy 1 λ )yu 1 2 u1 yu 2 ; Proposition 1 Let w be a group word in X. Then any two reductions of w: w w 1 w n w w 1 w m result in the same reduced form, i. e., w n = w m. Proof. Induction on w. If w = 0 then w is reduced and there is nothing to prove. Let now w 1 and w w 1 w n w w 1 w m be two reductions of w. Then by Lemma 1 there are elementary reductions w 1 w 0 and w 1 w 0. Consider a reduction process for w 0 : w 0 w 1 w k. This corresponds to the following diagram:

5 5 W W' 1 W" 2 W 0 W' n W" m W k By induction all reduced forms of the word w 1 are equal to each other, as well as all reduced forms of w 1. Since w k is a reduced form of both w 1 and w 1, then w n = w k = w m as desired. This proves the proposition. For a group word w by w we denote the unique reduced form of w. Let F (X) be the set of all reduced words in X ±1. For u, v F (X) we define multiplication u v as follows: u v = uv. Theorem 1 The set F (x) forms a group with respect to the multiplication. This group is free on X. Proof. The multiplication defined above is associative: (u v) w = u (v w) for any u, v, w F (X). To see this it suffices to prove that (uv)w = u(vw) for given u, v, w. Observe, that each of the reduced words (uv)w, u(vw) can be obtained form the word uvw by a sequence of elementary reductions, hence by Proposition 1 uvw = uvw = uvw.

6 6 Clearly, the empty word ɛ is the identity in F (X) with respect to the multiplication above, i.e., ɛ w = w ɛ for every w F (X). For this reason we usually denote ɛ by 1. Let w = y 1 y n, y i X ±1. Then the word is also reduced and w 1 = yn 1 y1 1 w w 1 = y 1 y n yn 1 y1 1 = 1. Hence w 1 is the inverse of w. This shows that F (X) satisfies all the axioms of a group. Notice that X is a generating set of F (X) and every non-empty reduced word w = x ε 1 i 1 x ε n in in X ±1 defines a non-trivial element in F (X) (the word w itself). Hence X is a free basis of F (X), so that F (X) is free on X. Digression. The reduction process above is a particular instance of a rewriting system in action. Now we pause for a while to discuss rewriting systems in general. the discussion follows 1.3 The universal property of free groups. Theorem 2 Let G be a group with a generating set X G. Then G is free on X if and only if the following universal property holds: every map ϕ : X H from X into a group H can be extended to a unique homomorphism ϕ : G H, so that the diagram below commutes X i G φ φ H (here X i G is the inclusion of X into G).

7 7 Proof. Let G be a free group freely generated by X and ϕ : X H a map from X into a group H. Since G is free on X then every element g G is defined by a unique reduced word in X ±1, Put g = x ε 1 i 1 x εn i n, (x ij X, ε i {1, 1}). g ϕ = (x ϕ i 1 ) ε 1... (x ϕ i n ) ε n in. (2) We claim that ϕ is a homomorphism. Indeed, let g, h G and g = y 1 y n z 1 z m, h = zm 1 z1 1 y n+1 y k, are the corresponding reduced words in X ±1, where y i, z j X ±1 and y n yn+1 1 ( we allow the subwords y 1 y n, z 1 z m, and y n+1 y k to be empty). Then gh = y 1 y n y n+1 y k is a reduced word in X ±1 presenting gh. Now (gh) ϕ = y ϕ 1... y ϕ n y ϕ n+1... y ϕ n = = y ϕ 1... y ϕ n z ϕ 1... z ϕ m (z ϕ m ) 1... (z ϕ 1 ) 1... y ϕ n+1... y ϕ k = g ϕ h ϕ. Hence ϕ is a homomorphism. Clearly, ϕ extends ϕ and the corresponding diagram commutes. Observe that any homomorphism ϕ : G H, that makes the diagram commutative, must satisfy the equalities 2, so ϕ is unique. This shows that G satisfies the required universal property. Suppose now that a group G with a generating set X satisfies the universal property. Take H = F (X) and define a map ϕ : X H by x ϕ = x, (x X). Then by the universal property ϕ extends to a unique homomorphism ϕ : G F (X). Let w be a non-empty reduced group word on X. Then w defines an element g in G for which g ϕ = w F (X). Hence g ϕ 1 and consequently g 1 in G. This shows that G is a free group on X. This proves the theorem. Observe, that the argument above implies the following result, which we state as a corollary. Corollary 1 Let G be a free group on X. Then the identical map X X extends to an isomorphism G F (X).

8 8 This corollary allows us to identify a free group freely generated by X with the group F (X). In what follows we usually refer to the group F (X) as to a free group on X. Digression. Defining various free objects (groups, rings, etc.) via their universal properties is a standard way to define universal objects in category theory. the discussion follows References: see any book on category theory, for example: S. MacLane Categories for the Working Mathematician, 1972, S. MacLane Homology, Springer, Presentations of groups The universal property of free groups allows one to describe arbitrary groups in terms of generators and relators. Let G be a group with a generating set X. By the universal property of free groups there exists a homomorphism ψ : F (X) G such that ψ(x) = x for x X. It follows that ψ is onto, so by the first isomorphism theorem G F (X)/ ker(ψ). In this event ker(ψ) is viewed as the set of relators of G, and a group word w ker(ψ) is called a relator of G in generators X. If a subset R ker(ψ) generates ker(ψ) as a normal subgroup of F (X) then it is termed a set of defining relations of G relative to X. The pair X R is called a presentation of G, it determines G uniquely up to isomorphism. The presentation X R is finite if both sets X and R are finite. A group is finitely presented if it has at least one finite presentation. Presentations provide a universal method to describe groups. In particular, finitely presented groups admit finite descriptions. How easy is to work with groups given by finite presentations - is another matter. The whole spectrum of algorithmic problems in combinatorial group theory arose as an attempt to answer this question. We will discuss this in due course. Digression. Presentations of groups lie in the heart of combinatorial group theory. They are the source of many great achievements and big disappointments. We are not going to mention relevant results here. Instead, we refer to few books on the subject. References: Magnus W., Karrass A., Solitar D. Combinatorial group theory, New York, Wiley, 1966.

9 9 Johnson, Presentations of groups, More advanced: Lyndon R., Schupp P. Combinatorial Group Theory, Springer, Epstein D. and all Word Processing in Groups, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Boston, Rank of free groups Theorem 3 If G is free on X and also on Y, then X = Y. Proof. By the universal property of free groups any map X Z 2 gives rise to a homomorphism of G into the cyclic group Z 2 of order 2. Moreover, every homomorphism G Z 2 can be obtained in this way (every homomorphism is completely defined by its values on a given generating set). Hence there are exactly 2 X different homomorphism form G into Z 2. This implies that 2 X = 2 Y and, assuming Generalized Continuum Hypothesis from set theory, X = Y. In fact, one may avoid using the Generalized Continuum Hypothesis here, indeed, when one of the sets X or Y is finite the result follows as above. If both of them are infinite then the result follows from an observation that cardinality of a group generated by an infinite set A is equal to A. This proves the theorem. Corollary 2 Let X and Y be sets. Then F (X) F (Y ) X = Y. Theorem 3 shows that the cardinality of a basis of a free group G is an invariant of G which characterizes G uniquely up to an isomorphism. Definition 2 Let G be a free group on X. called the rank of G. Then the cardinality of X is Sometimes we refer to a free group of rank n as to F n. Notice that if X Y then the subgroup X generated by X in F (Y ) is itself a free group with basis X. This implies that if m and n are cardinals and n m, then F n is embeddable into F m. We will show now that in some sense the reverse is also true for finite or countable ranks.

10 10 Proposition 2 Any countable free group G is embeddable into a free group of rank 2. Proof. To prove the result it suffices to find a free subgroup of countable rank in a free group of rank 2. Let F 2 be a free group with a basis {a, b}. Denote and put x n = b n ab n (n = 0, 1, 2,...) X = {x 0, x 1,...}. We claim that X freely generates the subgroup X in F 2. Indeed, let w = x ε 1 i 1... x ε n in be a reduced non-empty word in X ±1. Then w can also be viewed as a word in {a, b}: w = b i 1 a ε 1 b i 1 b i 2 a ε 2 b i 2... b i n a ε n b i n. Since w is reduced on X, then for each j = 1,..., n 1 either i j i j+1 or i j = i j+1 and ε j + ε j+1 0. In either case any reduction of w (as a word on {a, b}) does not affect a ε j and a ε j+1 in the subword b i j a ε j b i j b i j+1 a ε j+1 b i j+1 ; i.e., the literals a ε j and a ε j+1 are present in the reduced form of w as a word in {a, b} ±1. Hence the reduced form of w is non-empty, so w 1 in F 2. Clearly, X is a free group of countable rank. Digression Similar results are true for many other relatively free groups. the discussion follows References:

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