Complement (set theory)

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In set theory and other branches of mathematics, two kinds of complements are defined, the relative complement and the absolute complement.

Relative complement

If A and B are sets, then the relative complement of A in B, also known as the set-theoretic difference of B and A, is the set of elements in B, but not in A.

The relative complement
of A in B

The relative complement of A in B is usually written B − A (also B \ A).

Formally:

B - A = \{ x\in B \, | \, x \not \in A \}.

Examples:

The following proposition lists some notable properties of relative complements in relation to the set-theoretic operations of union and intersection.

PROPOSITION 1: If A, B, and C are sets, then the following identities hold:

  • C − (AB)  =  (C − A) ∪(C − B)
  • C − (AB)  =  (C − A) ∩(C − B)
  • C − (B − A)  =  (AC) ∪(C − B)
  • (B − A) ∩C  =  (BC) − A  =  B ∩(C − A)
  • (B − A) ∪C  =  (BC) − (A − C)
  • A − A  =  Ø
  • Ø − A  =  Ø
  • A − Ø  =  A

Absolute complement

The complement of A in U

If a universal set U is defined, then the relative complement of A in U is called the absolute complement (or simply complement) of A, and is denoted by AC, that is:

AC  = U − A

For example, if the universal set is the set of natural numbers, then the complement of the set of odd numbers is the set of even numbers.

The following proposition lists some important properties of absolute complements in relation to the set-theoretic operations of union and intersection.

PROPOSITION 2: If A and B are subsets of a universal set U, then the following identities hold:

De Morgan's laws:
  • (A ∪ B)C  = AC ∩ BC
  • (A ∩ B)C  = AC ∪ BC
Complement laws:
  • A ∪ AC  =  U
  • A ∩ AC  =  Ø
  • ØC  =  U
  • UC  =  Ø
  • If AB, then BCAC (this follows from the equivalence of a conditional with its contrapositive)
Involution or double complement law:
  • ACC  =  A.
Relationships between relative and absolute complements:
  • A − B = A ∩ BC
  • (A − B)C = AC ∪ B


The first two complement laws above shows that if A is a non-empty subset of U, then {A, AC} is a partition of U.

See also

ko:여집합 it:Insieme complemento he:משלים (מתמטיקה) sv:Komplement uk:Доповнення множин zh:补集

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