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Concept# Infimum and supremum

Summary

In mathematics, the infimum (abbreviated inf; plural infima) of a subset of a partially ordered set is the greatest element in that is less than or equal to each element of if such an element exists. In other words, it is the greatest element of that is lower or equal to the lowest element of . Consequently, the term greatest lower bound (abbreviated as ) is also commonly used. The supremum (abbreviated sup; plural suprema) of a subset of a partially ordered set is the least element in that is greater than or equal to each element of if such an element exists. In other words, it is the least element of that is greater than or equal to the greatest element of . Consequently, the supremum is also referred to as the least upper bound (or ).
The infimum is in a precise sense dual to the concept of a supremum. Infima and suprema of real numbers are common special cases that are important in analysis, and especially in Lebesgue integration. However, the general definitions remain valid in the more abstract setting of order theory where arbitrary partially ordered sets are considered.
The concepts of infimum and supremum are close to minimum and maximum, but are more useful in analysis because they better characterize special sets which may have . For instance, the set of positive real numbers (not including ) does not have a minimum, because any given element of could simply be divided in half resulting in a smaller number that is still in There is, however, exactly one infimum of the positive real numbers relative to the real numbers: which is smaller than all the positive real numbers and greater than any other real number which could be used as a lower bound. An infimum of a set is always and only defined relative to a superset of the set in question. For example, there is no infimum of the positive real numbers inside the positive real numbers (as their own superset), nor any infimum of the positive real numbers inside the complex numbers with positive real part.

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Order theory is a branch of mathematics that investigates the intuitive notion of order using binary relations. It provides a formal framework for describing statements such as "this is less than that" or "this precedes that". This article introduces the field and provides basic definitions. A list of order-theoretic terms can be found in the order theory glossary. Orders are everywhere in mathematics and related fields like computer science. The first order often discussed in primary school is the standard order on the natural numbers e.

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