In topology and related fields of mathematics, there are several restrictions that one often makes on the kinds of topological spaces that one wishes to consider. Some of these restrictions are given by the separation axioms. These are sometimes called Tychonoff separation axioms, after Andrey Tychonoff.
The separation axioms are axioms only in the sense that, when defining the notion of topological space, you could add these conditions as extra axioms to get a more restricted notion of what a topological space is. The modern approach is to fix once and for all the axiomatization of topological space and then speak of kinds of topological spaces. However, the term "separation axiom" has stuck. The separation axioms are denoted with the letter "T" after the German "Trennungsaxiom", which means separation axiom.
The precise meanings of the terms associated with the separation axioms has varied over time, as explained in History of the separation axioms. Especially when reading older literature, be sure to get the authors' definition of each condition mentioned to make sure that you know exactly what they mean.
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Preliminary definitions
Before we define the separation axioms themselves, we give concrete meaning to the concept of separated sets (and points) in topological spaces. (But separated sets are not the same as separated spaces, defined in the next section.)
The separation axioms are about the use of topological means to distinguish disjoint sets and distinct points. It's not enough for elements of a topological space to be distinct; we may want them to be topologically distinguishable. Similarly, it's not enough for subsets of a topological space to be disjoint; we may want them to be separated (in any of various ways). The separation axioms all say, in one way or another, that points or sets that are distinguishable or separated in some weak sense must also be distinguishable or separated in some stronger sense.
Let X be a topological space. Then two points x and y in X are topologically distinguishable if they do not have exactly the same neighbourhoods; that is, at least one of them has a neighbourhood that is not a neighbourhood of the other. If x and y are topologically distinguishable points, then the singleton sets {x} and {y} must be disjoint.
Two points x and y are separated if each of them has a neighbourhood that is not a neighbourhood of the other; that is, neither belongs to the other's closure. More generally, two subsets A and B of X are separated if each is disjoint from the other's closure. (The closures themselves do not have to be disjoint.) The points x and y are separated if and only if their singleton sets {x} and {y} are separated; all of the remaining conditions for sets may also be applied to points (or to a point and a set) by using singleton sets.
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