AskDefine | Define algebra

Dictionary Definition

algebra n : the mathematics of generalized arithmetical operations

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From , or mediaeval , from (al-jabr) “reunion”, “resetting of broken parts”, used in the title of al-Khwarizmi’s influential work (ilm al-jabr wa’l-muqābala), “the science of restoration and equating like with like”



  1. uncountable math A system for computation using letters or other symbols to represent numbers, with rules for manipulating these symbols.
  2. countable math A structure consisting of a set of elements together with one or more operations and rules specifying what expressions are equivalent.
  3. uncountable mathematics The study of algebras.


system for computation using letters or other symbols
  • Bosnian: algebra
  • Catalan: àlgebra
  • Chinese: 代数学 (dài shù xué)
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  • Urdu: الجبرا (aljabraa)
  • Croatian: algebra
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  • Japanese: 代数式 (だいすうしき, daisūshiki)
  • Portuguese: álgebra
  • Russian: алгебра
  • Croatian: algebra
  • Czech: algebra
  • Hungarian: algebra
  • Japanese: 代数学 (だいすうがく, daisūgaku)
  • Portuguese: álgebra
  • Russian: алгебра



hr-noun f



  1. algebra



algebra f

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  1. algebra

Extensive Definition

Algebra is a branch of mathematics concerning the study of structure, relation and quantity. The name is derived from the treatise written by the Persian mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and geographer, titled Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabala (meaning "The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing"), which provided symbolic operations for the systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations. Al-Khwarizimi's book made its way to Europe and was translated into Latin as Liber algebrae et almucabala.
Together with geometry, analysis, combinatorics, and number theory, algebra is one of the main branches of mathematics. Elementary algebra is often part of the curriculum in secondary education and provides an introduction to the basic ideas of algebra, including effects of adding and multiplying numbers, the concept of variables, definition of polynomials, along with factorization and determining their roots.
Algebra is much broader than elementary algebra and can be generalized. In addition to working directly with numbers, algebra covers working with symbols, variables, and set elements. Addition and multiplication are viewed as general operations, and their precise definitions lead to structures such as groups, rings and fields.


Algebra may be divided roughly into the following categories:
In some directions of advanced study, axiomatic algebraic systems such as groups, rings, fields, and algebras over a field are investigated in the presence of a geometric structure (a metric or a topology) which is compatible with the algebraic structure. The list includes a number of areas of functional analysis:

Elementary algebra

Elementary algebra is the most basic form of algebra. It is taught to students who are presumed to have no knowledge of mathematics beyond the basic principles of arithmetic. In arithmetic, only numbers and their arithmetical operations (such as +, −, ×, ÷) occur. In algebra, numbers are often denoted by symbols (such as a, x, or y). This is useful because:
  • It allows the general formulation of arithmetical laws (such as a + b = b + a for all a and b), and thus is the first step to a systematic exploration of the properties of the real number system.
  • It allows the reference to "unknown" numbers, the formulation of equations and the study of how to solve these (for instance, "Find a number x such that 3x + 1 = 10").
  • It allows the formulation of functional relationships (such as "If you sell x tickets, then your profit will be 3x - 10 dollars, or f(x) = 3x - 10, where f is the function, and x is the number to which the function is applied.").


A polynomial is an expression that is constructed from one or more variables and constants, using only the operations of addition, subtraction, and multiplication (where repeated multiplication of the same variable is standardly denoted as exponentiation with a constant whole number exponent). For example, x^2 + 2x -3\, is a polynomial in the single variable x.
An important class of problems in algebra is factorization of polynomials, that is, expressing a given polynomial as a product of other polynomials. The example polynomial above can be factored as (x-1)(x+3)\,\!. A related class of problems is finding algebraic expressions for the roots of a polynomial in a single variable.

Abstract algebra

see also Algebraic structure
Abstract algebra extends the familiar concepts found in elementary algebra and arithmetic of numbers to more general concepts.
Sets: Rather than just considering the different types of numbers, abstract algebra deals with the more general concept of sets: a collection of all objects (called elements) selected by property, specific for the set. All collections of the familiar types of numbers are sets. Other examples of sets include the set of all two-by-two matrices, the set of all second-degree polynomials (ax2 + bx + c), the set of all two dimensional vectors in the plane, and the various finite groups such as the cyclic groups which are the group of integers modulo n. Set theory is a branch of logic and not technically a branch of algebra.
Binary operations: The notion of addition (+) is abstracted to give a binary operation, * say. The notion of binary operation is meaningless without the set on which the operation is defined. For two elements a and b in a set S a*b gives another element in the set; this condition is called closure. Addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (×), and division (÷) can be binary operations when defined on different sets, as is addition and multiplication of matrices, vectors, and polynomials.
Identity elements: The numbers zero and one are abstracted to give the notion of an identity element for an operation. Zero is the identity element for addition and one is the identity element for multiplication. For a general binary operator * the identity element e must satisfy a * e = a and e * a = a. This holds for addition as a + 0 = a and 0 + a = a and multiplication a × 1 = a and 1 × a = a. However, if we take the positive natural numbers and addition, there is no identity element.
Inverse elements: The negative numbers give rise to the concept of inverse elements. For addition, the inverse of a is -a, and for multiplication the inverse is 1/a. A general inverse element a-1 must satisfy the property that a * a-1 = e and a-1 * a = e.
Associativity: Addition of integers has a property called associativity. That is, the grouping of the numbers to be added does not affect the sum. For example: (2+3)+4=2+(3+4). In general, this becomes (a * b) * c = a * (b * c). This property is shared by most binary operations, but not subtraction or division or octonion multiplication.
Commutativity: Addition of integers also has a property called commutativity. That is, the order of the numbers to be added does not affect the sum. For example: 2+3=3+2. In general, this becomes a * b = b * a. Only some binary operations have this property. It holds for the integers with addition and multiplication, but it does not hold for matrix multiplication or quaternion multiplication .

Groups—structures of a set with a single binary operation

Combining the above concepts gives one of the most important structures in mathematics: a group. A group is a combination of a set S and a single binary operation '*', defined in any way you choose, but with the following properties:
  • An identity element e exists, such that for every member a of S, e * a and a * e are both identical to a.
  • Every element has an inverse: for every member a of S, there exists a member a-1 such that a * a-1 and a-1 * a are both identical to the identity element.
  • The operation is associative: if a, b and c are members of S, then (a * b) * c is identical to a * (b * c).
If a group is also commutative - that is, for any two members a and b of S, a * b is identical to b * a – then the group is said to be Abelian.
For example, the set of integers under the operation of addition is a group. In this group, the identity element is 0 and the inverse of any element a is its negation, -a. The associativity requirement is met, because for any integers a, b and c, (a + b) + c = a + (b + c)
The nonzero rational numbers form a group under multiplication. Here, the identity element is 1, since 1 × a = a × 1 = a for any rational number a. The inverse of a is 1/a, since a × 1/a = 1.
The integers under the multiplication operation, however, do not form a group. This is because, in general, the multiplicative inverse of an integer is not an integer. For example, 4 is an integer, but its multiplicative inverse is 1/4, which is not an integer.
The theory of groups is studied in group theory. A major result in this theory is the classification of finite simple groups, mostly published between about 1955 and 1983, which is thought to classify all of the finite simple groups into roughly 30 basic types.
Semigroups, quasigroups, and monoids are structures similar to groups, but more general. They comprise a set and a closed binary operation, but do not necessarily satisfy the other conditions. A semigroup has an associative binary operation, but might not have an identity element. A monoid is a semigroup which does have an identity but might not have an inverse for every element. A quasigroup satisfies a requirement that any element can be turned into any other by a unique pre- or post-operation; however the binary operation might not be associative. All are instance of groupoids, structures with a binary operation upon which no further conditions are imposed.
All groups are monoids, and all monoids are semigroups.

Rings and fields—structures of a set with two particular binary operations, (+) and (×)

Groups just have one binary operation. To fully explain the behaviour of the different types of numbers, structures with two operators need to be studied. The most important of these are rings, and fields.
Distributivity generalised the distributive law for numbers, and specifies the order in which the operators should be applied, (called the precedence). For the integers (a + b) × c = a×c+ b×c and c × (a + b) = c×a + c×b, and × is said to be distributive over +.
A ring has two binary operations (+) and (×), with × distributive over +. Under the first operator (+) it forms an Abelian group. Under the second operator (×) it is associative, but it does not need to have identity, or inverse, so division is not allowed. The additive (+) identity element is written as 0 and the additive inverse of a is written as −a.
The integers are an example of a ring. The integers have additional properties which make it an integral domain.
A field is a ring with the additional property that all the elements excluding 0 form an Abelian group under ×. The multiplicative (×) identity is written as 1 and the multiplicative inverse of a is written as a-1.
The rational numbers, the real numbers and the complex numbers are all examples of fields.

Objects called algebras

The word algebra is also used for various algebraic structures:


The origins of algebra can be traced to the ancient Babylonians, who developed an advanced arithmetical system with which they were able to do calculations in an algebraic fashion. With the use of this system they were able to apply formulas and calculate solutions for unknown values for a class of problems typically solved today by using linear equations, quadratic equations, and indeterminate linear equations. By contrast, most Egyptians of this era, and most Indian, Greek and Chinese mathematicians in the first millennium BC, usually solved such equations by geometric methods, such as those described in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, Sulba Sutras, Euclid's Elements, and The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art. The geometric work of the Greeks, typified in the Elements, provided the framework for generalizing formulae beyond the solution of particular problems into more general systems of stating and solving equations.
Later, the Indian mathematicians developed algebraic methods to a high degree of sophistication. Although Diophantus and the Babylonians used mostly special ad hoc methods to solve equations, Brahmagupta was the first to solve equations using general methods. He solved the linear indeterminate equations, quadratic equations, second order indeterminate equations and equations with multiple variable.
The word "algebra" is named after the Arabic word "al-jabr" from the title of the book , meaning The book of Summary Concerning Calculating by Transposition and Reduction, a book written by the Persian mathematician in 820. The word Al-Jabr means "reunion". The Hellenistic mathematician Diophantus has traditionally been known as "the father of algebra" but debate now exists as to whether or not Al-Khwarizmi should take that title. Those who support Al-Khwarizmi point to the fact that much of his work on reduction is still in use today and that he gave an exhaustive explanation of solving quadratic equations. Those who support Diophantus point to the fact that the algebra found in Al-Jabr is more elementary than the algebra found in Arithmetica and that Arithmetica is syncopated while Al-Jabr is fully rhetorical. Another Persian mathematician, Omar Khayyam, developed algebraic geometry and found the general geometric solution of the cubic equation. The Indian mathematicians Mahavira and Bhaskara II, and the Chinese mathematician Zhu Shijie, solved various cases of cubic, quartic, quintic and higher-order polynomial equations.
Another key event in the further development of algebra was the general algebraic solution of the cubic and quartic equations, developed in the mid-16th century. The idea of a determinant was developed by Japanese mathematician Kowa Seki in the 17th century, followed by Gottfried Leibniz ten years later, for the purpose of solving systems of simultaneous linear equations using matrices. Gabriel Cramer also did some work on matrices and determinants in the 18th century. Abstract algebra was developed in the 19th century, initially focusing on what is now called Galois theory, and on constructibility issues.
The stages of the development of symbolic algebra are roughly as follows:
  • Rhetorical algebra, which was developed by the Babylonians and remained dominant up to the 16th century;
  • Geometric constructive algebra, which was emphasised by the Vedic Indian and classical Greek mathematicians;
  • Syncopated algebra, as developed by Diophantus, Brahmagupta and the Bakhshali Manuscript; and
  • Symbolic algebra, which was initiated by Abū al-Hasan ibn Alī al-Qalasādī
  • 1535: Nicolo Fontana Tartaglia and others mathematicians in Italy independently solved the general cubic equation.
  • 1545: Girolamo Cardano publishes Ars magna -The great art which gives Fontana's solution to the general quartic equation.
  • 1750: Gabriel Cramer, in his treatise Introduction to the analysis of algebraic curves, states Cramer's rule and studies algebraic curves, matrices and determinants.
  • 1824: Niels Henrik Abel proved that the general quintic equation is insoluble by radicals.
  • 1832: Galois theory is developed by Évariste Galois in his work on abstract algebra.


  • Donald R. Hill, Islamic Science and Engineering (Edinburgh University Press, 1994).
  • Ziauddin Sardar, Jerry Ravetz, and Borin Van Loon, Introducing Mathematics (Totem Books, 1999).
  • George Gheverghese Joseph, The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics (Penguin Books, 2000).
  • John J O'Connor and Edmund F Robertson, MacTutor History of Mathematics archive (University of St Andrews, 2005).
  • I.N. Herstein: Topics in Algebra. ISBN 0-471-02371-X
  • R.B.J.T. Allenby: Rings, Fields and Groups. ISBN 0-340-54440-6
  • L. Euler: Elements of Algebra, ISBN 978-1-89961-873-6

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