mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geometry), and calculus, change (mathematical analysis, analysis). It has no generally ...
, a set is a collection of distinct elements. The elements that make up a set can be any kind of things: people, letters of the alphabet, numbers, points in space, lines, other geometrical shapes, variables, or even other sets. Two sets are equal
if and only if In logic and related fields such as mathematics and philosophy, "if and only if" (shortened as "iff") is a biconditional logical connective between statements, where either both statements are true or both are false. The connective is bicondit ...
they have precisely the same elements. Sets are ubiquitous in modern mathematics. Indeed,
set theory illustrating the intersection (set theory), intersection of two set (mathematics), sets. Set theory is a branch of mathematical logic that studies Set (mathematics), sets, which informally are collections of objects. Although any type of object c ...
, more specifically Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory, has been the standard way to provide rigorous foundations for all branches of mathematics since the first half of the 20th century.


The concept of a set emerged in mathematics at the end of the 19th century. The German word for set, ''Menge'', was coined by Bernard Bolzano in his work '' Paradoxes of the Infinite''. Georg Cantor, one of the founders of set theory, gave the following definition at the beginning of his ''Beiträge zur Begründung der transfiniten Mengenlehre'':

Naïve set theory

The foremost property of a set is that it can have elements, also called ''members''. Two sets are equal when they have the same elements. More precisely, sets ''A'' and ''B'' are equal if every element of ''A'' is a member of ''B'', and every element of ''B'' is an element of ''A''; this property is called the ''
extensionality In logic, extensionality, or extensional equality, refers to principles that judge objects to be equality (mathematics), equal if they have the same external properties. It stands in contrast to the concept of intensionality, which is concerned with ...
of sets''. The simple concept of a set has proved enormously useful in mathematics, but paradoxes arise if no restrictions are placed on how sets can be constructed: * Russell's paradox shows that the "set of all sets that ''do not contain themselves''", i.e., , cannot exist. *
Cantor's paradox In set theory, Cantor's paradox states that there is no Set (mathematics), set of all cardinalities. This is derived from the theorem that there is no greatest cardinal number. In informal terms, the paradox is that the collection of all possible "i ...
shows that "the set of all sets" cannot exist. Naïve set theory defines a set as any ''well-defined'' collection of distinct elements, but problems arise from the vagueness of the term ''well-defined''.

Axiomatic set theory

In subsequent efforts to resolve these paradoxes since the time of the original formulation of naïve set theory, the properties of sets have been defined by axioms. Axiomatic set theory takes the concept of a set as a primitive notion. The purpose of the axioms is to provide a basic framework from which to deduce the truth or falsity of particular proposition (mathematics), mathematical propositions (statements) about sets, using first-order logic. According to Gödel's incompleteness theorems however, it is not possible to use first-order logic to prove any such particular axiomatic set theory is free from paradox.

How sets are defined and set notation

Mathematical texts commonly denote sets by capital letters in Italic type, italic, such as , , . A set may also be called a ''collection'' or ''family'', especially when its elements are themselves sets.

Semantic definition

One way to define a set is to use a rule to determine what the elements are: :Let be the set whose members are the first four positive integer, integers. :Let be the set of colors of the Flag of France, French flag. Such a definition is also called a ''semantic description''.

Roster notation

''Roster'' or ''enumeration notation'' defines a set by listing its elements between curly bracket, curly brackets, separated by commas: : = : = . In a set, all that matters is whether each element is in it or not, so the ordering of the elements in roster notation is irrelevant (in contrast, in a sequence, a tuple, or a permutation, permutation of a set, the ordering of the terms matters). For example, and represent the same set. For sets with many elements, especially those following an implicit pattern, the list of members can be abbreviated using an Ellipsis#In mathematical notation, ellipsis "...". For instance, the set of the first thousand positive integers may be specified in roster notation as :.

Infinite sets in roster notation

An infinite set is a set with an endless list of elements. To describe an infinite set in roster notation, an ellipsis is placed at the end of the list, or at both ends, to indicate that the list continues forever. For example, the set of natural number, nonnegative integers is :, and the set of all integers is :.

Set-builder notation

Set-builder notation specifies a set as a selection from a larger set, determined by a condition on the elements. For example, a set can be defined as follows: : = \. In this notation, the vertical bar ", " means "such that", and the description can be interpreted as " is the set of all numbers such that is an integer in the range from 0 to 19 inclusive". Some authors use a Colon (punctuation), colon ":" instead of the vertical bar.

Classifying methods of definition

Philosophy uses specific terms to classify types of definitions: *An ''intensional definition'' uses a ''rule'' to determine membership. Semantic definitions and definitions using set-builder notation are examples. *An ''extensional definition'' describes a set by ''listing all its elements''. Such definitions are also called ''enumerative definition, enumerative''. *An ''ostensive definition'' is one that describes a set by giving ''examples'' of elements; a roster involving an ellipsis would be an example.


If ''B'' is a set and ''x'' is an element of ''B'', this is written in shorthand as ''x'' ∈ ''B'', which can also be read as ''"x belongs to B"'', or ''"x is in B"''. The statement ''"y is not an element of B"'' is written as ''y'' ∉ ''B'', which can also be read as or ''"y is not in B"''. For example, with respect to the sets ''A'' = , ''B'' = , and ''F'' = , :4 ∈ ''A'' and 12 ∈ ''F''; and :20 ∉ ''F'' and green ∉ ''B''.

The empty set

The ''empty set'' (or ''null set'') is the unique set that has no members. It is denoted ∅ or \emptyset or .

Singleton sets

A ''singleton set'' is a set with exactly one element; such a set may also be called a ''unit set''. Any such set can be written as , where ''x'' is the element. The set and the element ''x'' mean different things; Halmos draws the analogy that a box containing a hat is not the same as the hat.


If every element of set ''A'' is also in ''B'', then ''A'' is described as being a ''subset of B'', or ''contained in B'', written ''A'' ⊆ ''B''. ''B'' ⊇ ''A'' means ''B contains A'', ''B includes A'', or ''B is a superset of A''; ''B'' ⊇ ''A'' is equivalent to ''A'' ⊆ ''B''. The relation (mathematics), relationship between sets established by ⊆ is called ''inclusion'' or ''containment''. Two sets are equal if they contain each other: ''A'' ⊆ ''B'' and ''B'' ⊆ ''A'' is equivalent to ''A'' = ''B''. If ''A'' is a subset of ''B'', but ''A'' is not equal to ''B'', then ''A'' is called a ''proper subset'' of ''B''. This can be written ''A'' ⊊ ''B''. Likewise, ''B'' ⊋ ''A'' means ''B is a proper superset of A'', i.e. ''B'' contains ''A'', and is not equal to ''A''. A third pair of operators ⊂ and ⊃ are used differently by different authors: some authors use ''A'' ⊂ ''B'' and ''B'' ⊃ ''A'' to mean ''A'' is any subset of ''B'' (and not necessarily a proper subset), while others reserve ''A'' ⊂ ''B'' and ''B'' ⊃ ''A'' for cases where ''A'' is a proper subset of ''B''. Examples: * The set of all humans is a proper subset of the set of all mammals. * ⊂ . * ⊆ . The empty set is a subset of every set, and every set is a subset of itself: * ∅ ⊆ ''A''. * ''A'' ⊆ ''A''.

Euler and Venn diagrams

An Euler diagram is a graphical representation of a collection of sets; each set is depicted as a planar region enclosed by a loop, with its elements inside. If is a subset of , then the region representing is completely inside the region representing . If two sets have no elements in common, the regions do not overlap. A Venn diagram, in contrast, is a graphical representation of sets in which the loops divide the plane into zones such that for each way of selecting some of the sets (possibly all or none), there is a zone for the elements that belong to all the selected sets and none of the others. For example, if the sets are , , and , there should be a zone for the elements that are inside and and outside (even if such elements do not exist).

Special sets of numbers in mathematics

There are sets of such mathematical importance, to which mathematicians refer so frequently, that they have acquired special names and notational conventions to identify them. Many of these important sets are represented in mathematical texts using bold (e.g. ) or blackboard bold (e.g. \mathbb Z) typeface. These include * or \mathbb N, the set of all natural numbers: (some authors exclude ); * or \mathbb Z, the set of all integers (whether positive, negative or zero): ; * or \mathbb Q, the set of all rational numbers (that is, the set of all proper fraction, proper and improper fractions): . For example, and ; * or \mathbb R, the set of all real number, real numbers, including all rational numbers and all irrational number, irrational numbers (which include algebraic numbers such as that cannot be rewritten as fractions, as well as transcendental numbers such as Pi, and e (mathematical constant), ); * or \mathbb C, the set of all complex numbers: , for example, . Each of the above sets of numbers has an infinite number of elements. Each is a subset of the sets listed below it. Sets of positive or negative numbers are sometimes denoted by superscript plus and minus signs, respectively. For example, \mathbf^+ represents the set of positive rational numbers.


A ''function (mathematics), function'' (or ''map (mathematics), mapping'') from a set to a set is a rule that assigns to each "input" element of an "output" that is an element of ; more formally, a function is a special kind of relation (mathematics), relation, one that relates each element of to ''exactly one'' element of . A function is called * injective (or one-to-one) if it maps any two different elements of to ''different'' elements of , * surjective (or onto) if for every element of , there is at least one element of that maps to it, and * bijective (or a one-to-one correspondence) if the function is both injective and surjective — in this case, each element of is paired with a unique element of , and each element of is paired with a unique element of , so that there are no unpaired elements. An injective function is called an ''injection'', a surjective function is called a ''surjection'', and a bijective function is called a ''bijection'' or ''one-to-one correspondence''.


The cardinality of a set ''S'', denoted , is the number of members of ''S''. For example, if ''B'' = , then . Repeated members in roster notation are not counted, so , too. More formally, two sets share the same cardinality if there exists a one-to-one correspondence between them. The cardinality of the empty set is zero.

Infinite sets and infinite cardinality

The list of elements of some sets is endless, or ''Infinite set, infinite''. For example, the set \N of natural number, natural numbers is infinite. In fact, all the special sets of numbers mentioned in the section above, are infinite. Infinite sets have ''infinite cardinality''. Some infinite cardinalities are greater than others. Sets with the same cardinality as \N are called ''countable set, countable sets''. Arguably one of the most significant results from set theory is that the set of real number, real numbers has greater cardinality than the set of natural numbers. Sets with cardinality greater than the set of natural numbers are called uncountable set, uncountable sets. However, it can be shown that the cardinality of a straight line (i.e., the number of points on a line) is the same as the cardinality of any line segment, segment of that line, of the entire plane (mathematics), plane, and indeed of any dimension (mathematics), finite-dimensional Euclidean space.

The Continuum Hypothesis

The Continuum Hypothesis, formulated by Georg Cantor in 1878, is the statement that there is no set with cardinality strictly between the aleph-nought, cardinality of the natural numbers and the cardinality of a straight line. In 1963, Paul Cohen proved that the Continuum Hypothesis is independence (mathematical logic), independent of the axiom system ZFC consisting of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory with the axiom of choice. (ZFC is the most widely-studied version of axiomatic set theory.)

Power sets

The power set of a set ''S'' is the set of all subsets of ''S''. The empty set and ''S'' itself are elements of the power set of ''S'' because these are both subsets of ''S''. For example, the power set of is . The power set of a set ''S'' is commonly written as ''P''(''S'') or 2''P''. The power set of a finite set with ''n'' elements has 2''n'' elements. For example, the set contains three elements, and the power set shown above contains 23 = 8 elements. The power set of an infinite (either countable or uncountable) set is always uncountable. Moreover, within the most widely-used frameworks of set theory, the power set of a set is always strictly "bigger" than the original set, in the sense that there is no way to pair every element of ''S'' with exactly one element of ''P''(''S''). (There is never an onto map or surjection from ''S'' onto ''P''(''S'').)


A partition of a set ''S'' is a set of nonempty subsets of ''S'', such that every element ''x'' in ''S'' is in exactly one of these subsets. That is, the subsets are pairwise disjoint (meaning any two sets of the partition contain no element in common), and the union (set theory), union of all the subsets of the partition is ''S''.

Basic operations

There are several fundamental operations for constructing new sets from given sets.


Two sets can be "added" together. The ''union'' of ''A'' and ''B'', denoted by ''A'' ∪ ''B'', is the set of all things that are members of either ''A'' or ''B''. Examples: * * * ∪ = Some basic properties of unions: * * * * * *
if and only if In logic and related fields such as mathematics and philosophy, "if and only if" (shortened as "iff") is a biconditional logical connective between statements, where either both statements are true or both are false. The connective is bicondit ...


A new set can also be constructed by determining which members two sets have "in common". The ''intersection'' of ''A'' and ''B'', denoted by is the set of all things that are members of both ''A'' and ''B''. If then ''A'' and ''B'' are said to be ''disjoint''. Examples: * * * Some basic properties of intersections: * * * * * *
if and only if In logic and related fields such as mathematics and philosophy, "if and only if" (shortened as "iff") is a biconditional logical connective between statements, where either both statements are true or both are false. The connective is bicondit ...


Two sets can also be "subtracted". The ''relative complement'' of ''B'' in ''A'' (also called the ''set-theoretic difference'' of ''A'' and ''B''), denoted by (or ), is the set of all elements that are members of ''A,'' but not members of ''B''. It is valid to "subtract" members of a set that are not in the set, such as removing the element ''green'' from the set ; doing so will not affect the elements in the set. In certain settings, all sets under discussion are considered to be subsets of a given universe (mathematics), universal set ''U''. In such cases, is called the ''absolute complement'' or simply ''complement'' of ''A'', and is denoted by ''A''′ or Ac. * Examples: * * * If ''U'' is the set of integers, ''E'' is the set of even integers, and ''O'' is the set of odd integers, then ''U'' \ ''E'' = ''E''′ = ''O''. Some basic properties of complements include the following: * for . * * * * * * * * and * and * . * if then An extension of the complement is the symmetric difference, defined for sets ''A'', ''B'' as :A\,\Delta\,B = (A \setminus B) \cup (B \setminus A). For example, the symmetric difference of and is the set . The power set of any set becomes a Boolean ring with symmetric difference as the addition of the ring (with the empty set as neutral element) and intersection as the multiplication of the ring.

Cartesian product

A new set can be constructed by associating every element of one set with every element of another set. The ''Cartesian product'' of two sets ''A'' and ''B'', denoted by ''A'' × ''B,'' is the set of all ordered pairs (''a'', ''b'') such that ''a'' is a member of ''A'' and ''b'' is a member of ''B''. Examples: * * * Some basic properties of Cartesian products: * * * Let ''A'' and ''B'' be finite sets; then the Set (mathematics)#Cardinality, cardinality of the Cartesian product is the product of the cardinalities: * ,  ''A'' × ''B'' , = ,  ''B'' × ''A'' , = ,  ''A'' , × ,  ''B'' , .


Sets are ubiquitous in modern mathematics. For example, Algebraic structure, structures in abstract algebra, such as Group (mathematics), groups, Field (mathematics), fields and Ring (mathematics), rings, are sets Closure (mathematics), closed under one or more operations. One of the main applications of naive set theory is in the construction of Relation (mathematics), relations. A relation from a domain of a function, domain ''A'' to a codomain ''B'' is a subset of the Cartesian product ''A'' × ''B''. For example, considering the set ''S'' = of shapes in the Rock paper scissors, game of the same name, the relation "beats" from ''S'' to ''S'' is the set ''B'' = ; thus ''x'' beats ''y'' in the game if the pair (''x'',''y'') is a member of ''B''. Another example is the set ''F'' of all pairs (''x'', ''x''2), where ''x'' is real. This relation is a subset of R × R, because the set of all squares is subset of the set of all real numbers. Since for every ''x'' in R, one and only one pair (''x'',...) is found in ''F'', it is called a function (mathematics), function. In functional notation, this relation can be written as ''F''(''x'') = ''x''2.

Principle of inclusion and exclusion

Image:A union B.svg, The inclusion-exclusion principle is used to calculate the size of the union of sets: the size of the union is the size of the two sets, minus the size of their intersection. The inclusion–exclusion principle is a counting technique that can be used to count the number of elements in a union of two sets—if the size of each set and the size of their intersection are known. It can be expressed symbolically as : , A \cup B, = , A, + , B, - , A \cap B, . A more general form of the principle can be used to find the cardinality of any finite union of sets: :\begin \left, A_\cup A_\cup A_\cup\ldots\cup A_\=& \left(\left, A_\+\left, A_\+\left, A_\+\ldots\left, A_\\right) \\ & - \left(\left, A_\cap A_\+\left, A_\cap A_\+\ldots\left, A_\cap A_\\right) \\ & + \ldots \\ & + \left(-1\right)^\left(\left, A_\cap A_\cap A_\cap\ldots\cap A_\\right). \end

De Morgan's laws

Augustus De Morgan stated De Morgan's laws, two laws about sets. If A and B are any two sets then, * (A ∪ B)′ = A′ ∩ B′ The complement of A union B equals the complement of A intersected with the complement of B. * (A ∩ B)′ = A′ ∪ B′ The complement of A intersected with B is equal to the complement of A union to the complement of B.

See also

* Algebra of sets * Alternative set theory * Axiomatic set theory * Category of sets * Class (set theory) * Dense set * Family of sets * Fuzzy set * Internal set * Mathematical object * Mereology * Multiset * Naive set theory * Principia Mathematica * Rough set * Russell's paradox * Sequence (mathematics) * Set notation * Taxonomy (general), Taxonomy * Tuple * Venn diagram



* * * *

External links

Cantor's "Beiträge zur Begründung der transfiniten Mengenlehre" (in German)
{{Authority control Concepts in logic Mathematical objects Set theory, *