Linear independence

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In algebra, a linearly independent system of elements of a module over a ring or of a vector space, is one for which the only linear combination equal to zero is that for which all the coefficients are zero (the "trivial" combination).

Formally, S is a linearly independent system if

A linearly dependent system is one which is not linearly independent.

A single non-zero element forms a linearly independent system and any subset of a linearly independent system is again linearly independent. A system is linearly independent if and only if all its finite subsets are linearly independent.

Any system containing the zero element is linearly dependent and any system containing a linearly dependent system is again linearly dependent.

We have used the word "system" rather than "set" to take account of the fact that, if x is non-zero, the singleton set {x} is linearly independent, as is the set {x,x}, since this is just the singleton set {x} again, but the finite sequence (x,x) of length two is linearly dependent, since it satisfies the non-trivial relation x1 - x2 = 0.

A basis is a maximal linearly independent set: equivalently, a linearly independent spanning set.

Linearly independent sets in a module form a motivating example of an independence structure.


  • Victor Bryant; Hazel Perfect (1980). Independence Theory in Combinatorics. Chapman and Hall. ISBN 0-412-22430-5. 
  • A.G. Howson (1972). A handbook of terms used in algebra and analysis. Cambridge University Press, 40. ISBN 0-521-09695-2. 
  • Serge Lang (1993). Algebra, 3rd ed. Addison-Wesley, 129-130. ISBN 0-201-55540-9.