Complex conjugation

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In mathematics, the complex conjugate of a complex number is given by changing the sign of the imaginary part. Thus, the conjugate of the complex number (where a and b are real numbers) is defined to be . The complex conjugate of a number z can be denoted by:


The symbol can also denote the conjugate transpose of a matrix A so care must be taken not to confuse notations. If a complex number is treated as a 1×1 vector, the notations are identical.

For example, , and .

One usually thinks of complex numbers as points in a plane with a cartesian coordinate system. The x-axis contains the real numbers and the y-axis contains the multiples of i. In this view, complex conjugation corresponds to reflection at the x-axis.


These properties apply for all complex numbers z and w, unless stated otherwise.

if w is non-zero
if and only if z is real
if z is non-zero

The latter formula is the method of choice to compute the inverse of a complex number if it is given in rectangular coordinates.

If p is a polynomial with real coefficients, and , then as well. Thus the roots of real polynomials outside of the real line occur in complex conjugate pairs.

The function from C to C is continuous. Even though it appears to be a "tame" well-behaved function, it is not holomorphic; it reverses orientation whereas holomorphic functions locally preserve orientation. It is bijective and compatible with the arithmetical operations, and hence is a field automorphism. As it keeps the real numbers fixed, it is an element of the Galois group of the field extension C / R. This Galois group has only two elements: φ and the identity on C. Thus the only two field automorphisms of C that leave the real numbers fixed are the identity map and complex conjugation.


Taking the conjugate transpose (or adjoint) of complex matrices generalizes complex conjugation. Even more general is the concept of adjoint operator for operators on (possibly infinite-dimensional) complex Hilbert spaces. All this is subsumed by the *-operations of C-star algebras.

One may also define a conjugation for quaternions: the conjugate of is .

Note that all these generalizations are multiplicative only if the factors are reversed:

Since the multiplication of complex numbers is commutative, this reversal is not needed there.

There is also an abstract notion of conjugation for vector spaces over the complex numbers. In this context, any (real) linear transformation that satisfies

  1. , the identity function on ,
  2. , and
  3. for all , ,

is called a complex conjugation. One example of this notion is the conjugate transpose operation of complex matrices defined above. It should be remarked that on general complex vector spaces there is no canonical notion of complex conjugation.

See also

de:Konjugation (Mathematik) cs:Komplexně_sdružené_číslo fr:Conjugué it:Complesso coniugato ja:共役複素数 nl:Complex_getal#Complex_geconjungeerde pl:Liczba sprzężona sv:Komplexkonjugat sr:Коњуговано комплексни број