In mathematics, the minimal polynomial of an object α is the monic polynomial p of least degree such that p(α)=0. The properties of the minimal polynomial depend on the algebraic structure to which α belongs.
In field theory, given a field extension E/F and an element α of E which is algebraic over F, the minimal polynomial of α is the monic polynomial p, with coefficients in F, of least degree such that p(α) = 0. The minimal polynomial is irreducible, and any other non-zero polynomial f with f(α) = 0 is a multiple of p.
In linear algebra, the minimal polynomial of an n-by-n matrix A over a field F is the monic polynomial p(x) over F of least degree such that p(A)=0. Any other polynomial q with q(A) = 0 is a (polynomial) multiple of p.
The following three statements are equivalent:
The minimal polynomial is not always the same as the characteristic polynomial. Consider the matrix , which has characteristic polynomial . However, the minimal polynomial is , since as desired, so they are different for . That the minimal polynomial always divides the characteristic polynomial is a consequence of the Cayley–Hamilton theorem.