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In , a set is a collection of distinct elements or members.

(1995). 9788122408010, New Age International. .
(1986). 9780486652528, Courier Corporation. .
(2021). 9780262032933, MIT Press. .
The elements that make up a set can be any kind of things, people, letters of the alphabet, or mathematical objects, such as numbers, points in space, lines or other geometrical shapes, algebraic constants and variables, or even other sets. Two sets are equal if and only if they have precisely the same elements. This is known as the axiom of extensionality.

Sets are ubiquitous in modern mathematics. The more specialized subject of is part of the foundations of mathematics.

The concept of a set emerged in mathematics at the end of the 19th century.
(2007). 9783764383497, Birkhäuser Basel. .
The German word Menge, rendered as "set" in English, was coined by in his work The Paradoxes of the Infinite.
(2004). 9780191513701, OUP Oxford. .
(1996). 9780198505358, OUP Oxford. .
(2019). 9780192556837, OUP Oxford. .
was one of the founders of set theory. He gave the following definition of a set at the beginning of his Beiträge zur Begründung der transfiniten Mengenlehre:"Eine Menge, ist die Zusammenfassung bestimmter, wohlunterschiedener Objekte unserer Anschauung oder unseres Denkens – welche Elemente der Menge genannt werden – zu einem Ganzen."

Naïve set theory
The foremost basic property of a set is that it can have elements. Another essential property of sets is that two sets are equal (one set equals the other, so the two sets are in fact one and the same) if and only if every element of each set is an element of the other. This property is called the extensionality of sets.

The simple concept of a set has proved enormously useful in mathematics, but it suffers from inconsistencies at the most fundamental level. A loose notion that allows any property without restriction to define a collection, leads to several , most notably:

  • Russell's paradoxIt shows that the "set of all sets that do not contain themselves," i.e. the "set" does not exist.
  • Cantor's paradoxIt shows that "the set of all sets" cannot exist.

Naïve set theory defines a set as any collection of distinct elements. Problems arise from the vague meaning 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 . Axiomatic set theory takes the concept of a set as a .
(2001). 9783764357498, Springer Science & Business Media. .
The purpose of the axioms is to provide a basic framework from which to deduce the truth or falsity of particular 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 use
(1997). 9780071368414, McGraw Hill Professional. .
in such as , , to denote sets.

A set can be defined either intensionally, extensionally

(2011). 9781441174130, Bloomsbury Publishing. .
or ostensively.

Semantic definition
The simplest intensional method of defining a set is by using a rule or semantic description:

is the set whose members are the first four positive .
is the set of colors of the French flag.

Roster notation
Sets are not limited to collections of elements following simple rules, such as the sets in the examples above, however. Roster notation (or enumeration notation) is a method of defining a set by listing (or enumerating) the members of the set,
(2009). 9781420069563, CRC Press. .
(2004). 9780716762973, W. H. Freeman. .
(2009). 9781420069563, CRC Press. .
(2013). 9781133107422, Cengage Learning. .
(2010). 9780495391326, Cengage Learning. .
enclosing the list of members in :

= .

This is an example of enumerative definition.

Unlike a , a or a of a set, the order in which the elements of a set are listed in roster notation is irrelevant, so is the same set as , and , , , or all represent the same set.

(2005). 9781439863756, CRC Press. .
(2014). 9781483150390, Elsevier Science. .

For sets with many elements, especially those following an implicit pattern, the list of members can be abbreviated using ellipsis ("...").

(2013). 9781285608433, Cengage Learning. .
(2013). 9780618951345, Cengage Learning. .
For instance, the set of the first thousand positive integers may be specified in roster notation as:


where the ellipsis indicates that the list continues by following the established pattern.

Infinite sets in roster notation
Some sets have an endless list of elements. These are called . For example, the set of integers, including positive, negative and zero, is an infinite set. In roster notation, this set can be written with just one ellipsis:

or alternatively, using two:

Set-builder notation
Set-builder notation is another intensional method of describing a set, which is often found in mathematical texts. The set is specified as a selection from a larger set, determined by a condition involving the elements.
(1990). 9780912675732, Rowman & Littlefield. .
For example, a set can be defined as follows:

= \{n \mid n \text{ is an integer, and } 0 \leq n \leq 19\}.


= \{n : n \text{ is an integer, and } 0 \leq n \leq 19\}.

In this notation, the ("|") 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 (":") instead of the vertical bar.

(1987). 9780314295316, West Publishing Company. .

If B is a set and x is an element of B, this is written in shorthand as xB, 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 yB, which can also be read as or "y is not in B".
(2021). 9781852337810, Springer Science & Business Media. .

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, the set of no members, denoted or ∅, is unique.
(1992). 9789622090262, Hong Kong University Press. .
Other notations are also in use (see ).

Singleton sets
A set with exactly one element, x, is a unit set, or singleton, .

The set is semantically distinct from the element x. (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 AB.
(2021). 9780821838358, American Mathematical Soc.. .
BA means B contains A, B includes A, or B is a superset of A; BA is equivalent to AB.
(2010). 9781846282928, Springer Science & Business Media. .
The relationship between sets established by ⊆ is called inclusion or containment. Two sets are equal if they contain each other: AB and BA 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 AB. Likewise, BA 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 AB and BA to mean A is any subset of B (and not necessarily a proper subset), while others reserve AB and BA for cases where A is a proper subset of B.


  • 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.
  • AA.

Euler and Venn diagrams
An is a graphical representation of a set as a closed loop, enclosing its elements, or the relationships between different sets, as closed loops. If two sets have no members in common, the loops do not overlap.

This is distinct from a , which shows all possible relations between two or more sets, with each loop overlapping the others.

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 (e.g. \mathbb Z) typeface.

(2003). 9781139439435, Cambridge University Press. .
These include:
  • or \mathbb N, denoting the set of all : (some authors exclude )
  • or \mathbb Z, denoting the set of all (whether positive, negative or zero):
  • or \mathbb Q, denoting the set of all (that is, the set of all and improper fractions): , for example, and , and since every integer can be expressed as the fraction , all integers are members of this set (\mathbf Z \subsetneq \mathbf Q)
  • or \mathbb R, denoting the set of all , including all rational numbers, together with all irrational numbers (that is, that cannot be rewritten as fractions such as , as well as transcendental numbers such as , )
  • or \mathbb C, denoting the set of all : , for example,

Each of the above sets of numbers has an infinite number of elements, and each can be considered to be a proper 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, \mathbb Q^+ represents the set of positive rational numbers.

Mappings and one-to-one correspondence
In mathematics, a mapping or function from set to a set is a relation between the two sets, which relates each element of set with exactly one element of set . A one-to-one correspondence or is a mapping where each element of set is paired with exactly one element of set , and each element of set is paired with exactly one element of set , so that there are no unpaired elements.

The cardinality of a set S, denoted , is the number of members of S.
(1994). 9783540941804, Springer Science & Business Media. .
For example, if B = , then . Repeated members in roster notation are not counted,
(2021). 9789810245009, World Scientific. .
(2015). 9781939512079, The Mathematical Association of America. .
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.

(2008). 9780495389132, Cengage Learning. .

Infinite sets and infinite cardinality
The list of elements of some sets is endless, or . For example, the set ℕ of 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 . Arguably one of the most significant results from set theory is that the set of has greater cardinality than the set of natural numbers.

(2013). 9783319015774, Springer Science & Business Media. .
Sets with cardinality greater than the set of natural numbers are called .

However, it can be shown that the cardinality of a (i.e., the number of points on a line) is the same as the cardinality of any of that line, of the entire plane, and indeed of any finite-dimensional .

(2006). 9780306472039, Springer Science & Business Media. .

The Continuum Hypothesis
The Continuum Hypothesis of Georg Cantor in 1878 stated that there are no sets with cardinality between that of countable sets and that of a straight line. In 1963, proved the Continuum Hypothesis is independent of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory with the axiom of choice (ZFC, 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 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 or ) 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 from S onto P( S).)

(2004). 9781931914413, Springer Science & Business Media. .

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 of all the subsets of the partition is S.
(2012). 9781439863336, CRC Press. .

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.


  • {1, 2, 3} ∪ {3, 4, 5} = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}

Some basic properties of unions:

  • if and only if

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.


Some basic properties of intersections:

  • if and only if

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 universal set U. In such cases, is called the absolute complement or simply complement of A, and is denoted by A′ or Ac.


  • 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 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 ( a, b) such that a is a member of A and b is a member of B.


Some basic properties of Cartesian products: Let A and B be finite sets; then the 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, structures in , such as groups, fields and rings, are sets closed under one or more operations.

One of the main applications of naive set theory is in the construction of relations. A relation from a domain A to a B is a subset of the Cartesian product A × B. For example, considering the set S = { rock, paper, scissors } of shapes in the game of the same name, the relation "beats" from S to S is the set B = { (scissors,paper), (paper,rock), (rock,scissors) }; 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, x2), 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. In functional notation, this relation can be written as F( x) = x2.

Principle of inclusion and exclusion
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:

\left|A_{1}\cup A_{2}\cup A_{3}\cup\ldots\cup A_{n}\right|=& \left(\left|A_{1}\right|+\left|A_{2}\right|+\left|A_{3}\right|+\ldots\left|A_{n}\right|\right) \\ &{} - \left(\left|A_{1}\cap A_{2}\right|+\left|A_{1}\cap A_{3}\right|+\ldots\left|A_{n-1}\cap A_{n}\right|\right) \\ &{} + \ldots \\ &{} + \left(-1\right)^{n-1}\left(\left|A_{1}\cap A_{2}\cap A_{3}\cap\ldots\cap A_{n}\right|\right). \end{align}

De Morgan's laws
Augustus De Morgan stated 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


External links

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