Equivalence relation

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A relation, [ilmath]\sim[/ilmath], in [ilmath]X[/ilmath][Note 1] is an equivalence relation if it has the following properties[1]:

Name Definition
1 Reflexive [ilmath]\forall x\in X[(x,x) \in \sim][/ilmath]. Which we write [ilmath]\forall x\in X[x\sim x][/ilmath].
2 Symmetric [ilmath]\forall x,y\in X[(x,y) \in \sim \implies (y,x) \in \sim][/ilmath]. Which we write [ilmath]\forall x,y \in X[x\sim y \implies y\sim x][/ilmath].
3 Transitive [ilmath]\forall x,y,z\in X[((x,y) \in \sim \wedge (y,z) \in \sim) \implies (x,z) \in \sim][/ilmath]. Which we write [ilmath]\forall x,y,z \in X [(x\sim y \wedge y\sim z) \implies x\sim z][/ilmath].


  • An equivalence class is the name given to the set of all things which are equivalent under a given equivalence relation.
    • Often denoted [ilmath][a][/ilmath] for all the things equivalent to [ilmath]a[/ilmath]
    • Defined as [ilmath][a]:=\{b\in X\ \vert\ b\sim a\}[/ilmath]
  • If there are multiple equivalence relations at play, we often use different letters to distinguish them, eg [ilmath]\sim_\alpha[/ilmath] and [ilmath][\cdot]_\alpha[/ilmath]
  • Sometimes different symbols are employed, for example [ilmath]\cong[/ilmath] denotes a topological homeomorphism (which is an equivalence relation on topological spaces)

See Also


  1. This terminology means [ilmath]\sim \subseteq X\times X[/ilmath], as described on the relation page.


  1. Set Theory - Thomas Jech - Third millennium edition, revised and expanded

Old Page

An equivalence relation is a special kind of relation

Required properties

Given a relation [ilmath]R[/ilmath] in [ilmath]A[/ilmath] we require the following properties to define a relation (these are restated for convenience from the relation page)


A relation [ilmath]R[/ilmath] if for all [ilmath]a\in A[/ilmath] we have [ilmath]aRa[/ilmath]


A relation [ilmath]R[/ilmath] is symmetric if for all [ilmath]a,b\in A[/ilmath] we have [ilmath]aRb\implies bRa[/ilmath]


A relation [ilmath]R[/ilmath] is transitive if for all [ilmath]a,b,c\in A[/ilmath] we have [ilmath]aRb\text{ and }bRc\implies aRc[/ilmath]


A relation [ilmath]R[/ilmath] is an equivalence relation if it is:

  • reflexive
  • symmetric
  • transitive