Intersection (set theory)

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In mathematics, the intersection (denoted as ∩) of two sets A and B is the set that contains all elements of A that also belong to B (or equivalently, all elements of B that also belong to A), but no other elements.

For explanation of the symbols used in this article, refer to the table of mathematical symbols.


Basic definition

The intersection of A and B is written "AB". Formally:

  • xA and
  • xB.
  • The intersection of the sets {1, 2, 3} and {2, 3, 4} is {2, 3}.
  • The number 9 is not in the intersection of the set of prime numbers {2, 3, 5, 7, 11, …} and the set of odd numbers {1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, …}.

If the intersection of two sets A and B is empty, that is they have no elements in common, then they are said to be disjoint, denoted: AB = ∅. For example the sets {1, 2} and {3, 4} are disjoint, written
{1, 2} ∩ {3, 4} = ∅.

More generally, one can take the intersection of several sets at once. The intersection of A, B, C, and D, for example, is ABCD = A ∩ (B ∩ (CD)). Intersection is an associative operation; thus,
A ∩ (BC) = (AB) ∩ C.

If the sets A and B are closed under complement then the intersection of A and B may be written as the complement of the union of their complements, derived easily from De Morgan's laws:
AB = (AcBc)c

Arbitrary intersections

The most general notion is the intersection of an arbitrary nonempty collection of sets. If M is a nonempty set whose elements are themselves sets, then x is an element of the intersection of M if and only if for every element A of M, x is an element of A. In symbols:

The notation for this last concept can vary considerably. Set theorists will sometimes write "M", while others will instead write "AM A". The latter notation can be generalized to "iI Ai", which refers to the intersection of the collection {Ai : i ∈ I}. Here I is a nonempty set, and Ai is a set for every i in I.

In the case that the index set I is the set of natural numbers, notation analogous to that of an infinite series may be seen:

When formatting is difficult, this can also be written "A1 ∩ A2 ∩ A3 ∩ ...", even though strictly speaking, A1 ∩ (A2 ∩ (A3 ∩ ... makes no sense. (This last example, an intersection of countably many sets, is actually very common; for an example see the article on σ-algebras.)

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