Group action

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In mathematics, a group action is a relation between a group G and a set X in which the elements of G act as operations on the set.

Formally, a group action is a map from the Cartesian product , written as or or satisfying the following properties:

From these we deduce that , so that each group element acts as an invertible function on X, that is, as a permutation of X.

If we let denote the permutation associated with action by the group element , then the map from G to the symmetric group on X is a group homomorphism, and every group action arises in this way. We may speak of the action as a permutation representation of G. The kernel of the map A is also called the kernel of the action, and a faithful action is one with trivial kernel. Since we have

where K is the kernel of the action, there is no loss of generality in restricting consideration to faithful actions where convenient.


  • Any group acts on any set by the trivial action in which .
  • The symmetric group acts of X by permuting elements in the natural way.
  • The automorphism group of an algebraic structure acts on the structure.
  • A group acts on itself by right translation.
  • A group acts on itself by Conjugation (group theory)conjugation.


The stabiliser of an element x of X is the subset of G which fixes x:

The stabiliser is a subgroup of G.


The orbit of any x in X is the subset of X which can be "reached" from x by the action of G:

The orbits partition the set X: they are the equivalence classes for the relation defined by

If x and y are in the same orbit, their stabilisers are conjugate.

The elements of the orbit of x are in one-to-one correspondence with the right cosets of the stabiliser of x by

Hence the order of the orbit is equal to the index of the stabiliser. If G is finite, the order of the orbit is a factor of the order of G.

A fixed point of an action is just an element x of X such that for all g in G: that is, such that .


  • In the trivial action, every point is a fixed point and the orbits are all singletons.
  • Let be a permutation in the usual action of on . The cyclic subgroup generated by acts on X and the orbits are the cycles of .
  • If G acts on itself by conjugation, then the orbits are the conjugacy classes and the fixed points are the elements of the centre.


An action is transitive or 1-transitive if for any x and y in X there exists a g in G such that . Equivalently, the action is transitive if it has only one orbit.

More generally an action is k -transitive for some fixed number k if any k-tuple of distinct elements of X can be mapped to any other k-tuple of distinct elements by some group element.

An action is primitive if there is no non-trivial partition of the set X which is preserved by the group action. Since the orbits form a partition preserved by this group action, primitive implies transitive. Further, 2-transitive implies primitive.