Linear span

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In the mathematical subfield of linear algebra, the linear span, also called the linear hull, of a set of vectors in a vector space is the intersection of all subspaces containing that set. The linear span of a set of vectors is therefore a vector space.



Given a vector space V over a field K, the span of a set S (not necessarily finite) is defined to be the intersection W of all subspaces of V which contain S. W is referred to as the subspace spanned by S, or by the vectors in S.

If S = \{v_1,\dots,v_r\}\, is a finite subset of V, then the span is

The span of S may also be defined as the set of all linear combinations of the elements of S, which follows from the above definition.


The real vector space R3 has {(2,0,0), (0,1,0), (0,0,1)} as a spanning set. This particular spanning set is also a basis. If (2,0,0) were replaced by (1,0,0), it would also form the canonical basis of R3.

Another spanning set for the same space is given by {(1,2,3), (0,1,2), (−1,1/2,3), (1,1,1)}, but this set is not a basis, because it is linearly dependent.

The set {(1,0,0), (0,1,0), (1,1,0)} is not a spanning set of R3; instead its span is the space of all vectors in R3 whose last component is zero.


Theorem 1: The subspace spanned by a non-empty subset S of a vector space V is the set of all linear combinations of vectors in S.

This theorem is so well known that at times it is referred to as the definition of span of a set.

Theorem 2: Every spanning set S of a vector space V must contain at least as many elements as any linearly independent set of vectors from V.

Theorem 3: Let V be a finite dimensional vector space. Any set of vectors that spans V can be reduced to a basis for V by discarding vectors if necessary (i.e. if there are linearly dependent vectors in the set). If the axiom of choice holds, this is true without the assumption that V has finite dimension.

This also indicates that a basis is a minimal spanning set when V is finite dimensional.


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