Field extension

In mathematics, and, in particular, in algebra, a field extension is a pair of fields such that the operations of E are those of F restricted to E. In this case, F is an extension field of E and E is a subfield of F.[1][2][3] For example, under the usual notions of addition and multiplication, the complex numbers are an extension field of the real numbers; the real numbers are a subfield of the complex numbers.

Field extensions are fundamental in algebraic number theory, and in the study of polynomial roots through Galois theory, and are widely used in algebraic geometry.


A subfield of a field L is a subset K of L that is a field with respect to the field operations inherited from L. Equivalently, a subfield is a subset that contains 1, and is closed under the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and taking the inverse of a nonzero element of L.

As 1 – 1 = 0, the latter definition implies K and L have the same zero element.

For example, the field of rational numbers is a subfield of the real numbers, which is itself a subfield of the complex numbers. More generally, the field of rational numbers is (or is isomorphic to) a subfield of any field of characteristic 0.

The characteristic of a subfield is the same as the characteristic of the larger field.

Extension field

If K is a subfield of L, then L is an extension field or simply extension of K, and this pair of fields is a field extension. Such a field extension is denoted L / K (read as "L over K").

If L is an extension of F which is in turn an extension of K, then F is said to be an intermediate field (or intermediate extension or subextension) of L / K.

Given a field extension L / K, the larger field L is a K-vector space. The dimension of this vector space is called the degree of the extension and is denoted by [L : K].

The degree of an extension is 1 if and only if the two fields are equal. In this case, the extension is a trivial extension. Extensions of degree 2 and 3 are called quadratic extensions and cubic extensions, respectively. A finite extension is an extension that has a finite degree. The degree of a finite extension L / K is denoted [L : K]

Given two extensions L / K and M / L, the extension M / K is finite if and only if both L / K and M / L are finite. In this case, one has

Given a field extension L / K and a subset S of L, there is a smallest subfield of L that contains K and S. It is the intersection of all subfields of L that contain K and S, and is denoted by K(S). One says that K(S) is the field generated by S over K, and that S is a generating set of K(S) over K. When is finite, one writes instead of and one says that K(S) is finitely generated over K. If S consists of a single element s, the extension K(s) / K is called a simple extension[4][5] and s is called a primitive element of the extension.[6]

An extension field of the form K(S) is often said to result from the adjunction of S to K.[7][8]

In characteristic 0, every finite extension is a simple extension. This is the primitive element theorem, which does not hold true for fields of non-zero characteristic.

If a simple extension K(s) / K is not finite, the field K(s) is isomorphic to the field of rational fractions in s over K.


The notation L / K is purely formal and does not imply the formation of a quotient ring or quotient group or any other kind of division. Instead the slash expresses the word "over". In some literature the notation L:K is used.

It is often desirable to talk about field extensions in situations where the small field is not actually contained in the larger one, but is naturally embedded. For this purpose, one abstractly defines a field extension as an injective ring homomorphism between two fields. Every non-zero ring homomorphism between fields is injective because fields do not possess nontrivial proper ideals, so field extensions are precisely the morphisms in the category of fields.

Henceforth, we will suppress the injective homomorphism and assume that we are dealing with actual subfields.


The field of complex numbers is an extension field of the field of real numbers and in turn is an extension field of the field of rational numbers Clearly then, is also a field extension. We have because is a basis, so the extension is finite. This is a simple extension because (the cardinality of the continuum), so this extension is infinite.

The field

is an extension field of also clearly a simple extension. The degree is 2 because can serve as a basis.

The field

is an extension field of both and of degree 2 and 4 respectively. It is also a simple extension, as one can show that

Finite extensions of are also called algebraic number fields and are important in number theory. Another extension field of the rationals, which is also important in number theory, although not a finite extension, is the field of p-adic numbers for a prime number p.

It is common to construct an extension field of a given field K as a quotient ring of the polynomial ring K[X] in order to "create" a root for a given polynomial f(X). Suppose for instance that K does not contain any element x with x2 = −1. Then the polynomial is irreducible in K[X], consequently the ideal generated by this polynomial is maximal, and is an extension field of K which does contain an element whose square is −1 (namely the residue class of X).

By iterating the above construction, one can construct a splitting field of any polynomial from K[X]. This is an extension field L of K in which the given polynomial splits into a product of linear factors.

If p is any prime number and n is a positive integer, we have a finite field GF(pn) with pn elements; this is an extension field of the finite field with p elements.

Given a field K, we can consider the field K(X) of all rational functions in the variable X with coefficients in K; the elements of K(X) are fractions of two polynomials over K, and indeed K(X) is the field of fractions of the polynomial ring K[X]. This field of rational functions is an extension field of K. This extension is infinite.

Given a Riemann surface M, the set of all meromorphic functions defined on M is a field, denoted by It is a transcendental extension field of if we identify every complex number with the corresponding constant function defined on M. More generally, given an algebraic variety V over some field K, then the function field of V, consisting of the rational functions defined on V and denoted by K(V), is an extension field of K.

Algebraic extension

An element x of a field extension L / K is algebraic over K if it is a root of a nonzero polynomial with coefficients in K. For example, is algebraic over the rational numbers, because it is a root of If an element x of L is algebraic over K, the monic polynomial of lowest degree that has x as a root is called the minimal polynomial of x. This minimal polynomial is irreducible over K.

An element s of L is algebraic over K if and only if the simple extension K(s) /K is a finite extension. In this case the degree of the extension equals the degree of the minimal polynomial, and a basis of the K-vector space K(s) consists of where d is the degree of the minimal polynomial.

The set of the elements of L that are algebraic over K form a subextension, which is called the algebraic closure of K in L. This results from the preceding characterization: if s and t are algebraic, the extensions K(s) /K and K(s)(t) /K(s) are finite. Thus K(s, t) /K is also finite, as well as the sub extensions K(s ± t) /K, K(st) /K and K(1/s) /K (if s ≠ 0. It follows that s ± t, st and 1/s are all algebraic.

An algebraic extension L / K is an extension such that every element of L is algebraic over K. Equivalently, an algebraic extension is an extension that is generated by algebraic elements. For example, is an algebraic extension of , because and are algebraic over

A simple extension is algebraic if and only if it is finite. This implies that an extension is algebraic if and only if it is the union of its finite subextensions, and that every finite extension is algebraic.

Every field K has an algebraic closure, which is up to an isomorphism the largest extension field of K which is algebraic over K, and also the smallest extension field such that every polynomial with coefficients in K has a root in it. For example, is an algebraic closure of but not an algebraic closure of as it is not algebraic over (for example π is not algebraic over ).

Transcendental extension

Given a field extension L / K, a subset S of L is called algebraically independent over K if no non-trivial polynomial relation with coefficients in K exists among the elements of S. The largest cardinality of an algebraically independent set is called the transcendence degree of L/K. It is always possible to find a set S, algebraically independent over K, such that L/K(S) is algebraic. Such a set S is called a transcendence basis of L/K. All transcendence bases have the same cardinality, equal to the transcendence degree of the extension. An extension L/K is said to be purely transcendental if and only if there exists a transcendence basis S of L/K such that L = K(S). Such an extension has the property that all elements of L except those of K are transcendental over K, but, however, there are extensions with this property which are not purely transcendental—a class of such extensions take the form L/K where both L and K are algebraically closed. In addition, if L/K is purely transcendental and S is a transcendence basis of the extension, it doesn't necessarily follow that L = K(S). For example, consider the extension where x is transcendental over The set is algebraically independent since x is transcendental. Obviously, the extension is algebraic, hence is a transcendence basis. It doesn't generate the whole extension because there is no polynomial expression in for . But it is easy to see that is a transcendence basis that generates so this extension is indeed purely transcendental.)

Normal, separable and Galois extensions

An algebraic extension L/K is called normal if every irreducible polynomial in K[X] that has a root in L completely factors into linear factors over L. Every algebraic extension F/K admits a normal closure L, which is an extension field of F such that L/K is normal and which is minimal with this property.

An algebraic extension L/K is called separable if the minimal polynomial of every element of L over K is separable, i.e., has no repeated roots in an algebraic closure over K. A Galois extension is a field extension that is both normal and separable.

A consequence of the primitive element theorem states that every finite separable extension has a primitive element (i.e. is simple).

Given any field extension L/K, we can consider its automorphism group Aut(L/K), consisting of all field automorphisms α: LL with α(x) = x for all x in K. When the extension is Galois this automorphism group is called the Galois group of the extension. Extensions whose Galois group is abelian are called abelian extensions.

For a given field extension L/K, one is often interested in the intermediate fields F (subfields of L that contain K). The significance of Galois extensions and Galois groups is that they allow a complete description of the intermediate fields: there is a bijection between the intermediate fields and the subgroups of the Galois group, described by the fundamental theorem of Galois theory.


Field extensions can be generalized to ring extensions which consist of a ring and one of its subrings. A closer non-commutative analog are central simple algebras (CSAs) – ring extensions over a field, which are simple algebra (no non-trivial 2-sided ideals, just as for a field) and where the center of the ring is exactly the field. For example, the only finite field extension of the real numbers is the complex numbers, while the quaternions are a central simple algebra over the reals, and all CSAs over the reals are Brauer equivalent to the reals or the quaternions. CSAs can be further generalized to Azumaya algebras, where the base field is replaced by a commutative local ring.

Extension of scalars

Given a field extension, one can "extend scalars" on associated algebraic objects. For example, given a real vector space, one can produce a complex vector space via complexification. In addition to vector spaces, one can perform extension of scalars for associative algebras defined over the field, such as polynomials or group algebras and the associated group representations. Extension of scalars of polynomials is often used implicitly, by just considering the coefficients as being elements of a larger field, but may also be considered more formally. Extension of scalars has numerous applications, as discussed in extension of scalars: applications.

See also


  1. ^ Fraleigh (1976, p. 293)
  2. ^ Herstein (1964, p. 167)
  3. ^ McCoy (1968, p. 116)
  4. ^ Fraleigh (1976, p. 298)
  5. ^ Herstein (1964, p. 193)
  6. ^ Fraleigh (1976, p. 363)
  7. ^ Fraleigh (1976, p. 319)
  8. ^ Herstein (1964, p. 169)


  • Fraleigh, John B. (1976), A First Course In Abstract Algebra (2nd ed.), Reading: Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-01984-1
  • Herstein, I. N. (1964), Topics In Algebra, Waltham: Blaisdell Publishing Company, ISBN 978-1114541016
  • Lang, Serge (2004), Algebra, Graduate Texts in Mathematics, 211 (Corrected fourth printing, revised third ed.), New York: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-0-387-95385-4
  • McCoy, Neal H. (1968), Introduction To Modern Algebra, Revised Edition, Boston: Allyn and Bacon, LCCN 68015225

External links

Abelian extension

In abstract algebra, an abelian extension is a Galois extension whose Galois group is abelian. When the Galois group is also cyclic, the extension is also called a cyclic extension. Going in the other direction, a Galois extension is called solvable if its Galois group is solvable, i.e., if the group can be decomposed into a series of normal extensions of an abelian group.

Every finite extension of a finite field is a cyclic extension.

Class field theory provides detailed information about the abelian extensions of number fields, function fields of algebraic curves over finite fields, and local fields.

There are two slightly different definitions of the term cyclotomic extension. It can mean either an extension formed by adjoining roots of unity to a field, or a subextension of such an extension. The cyclotomic fields are examples. A cyclotomic extension, under either definition, is always abelian.

If a field K contains a primitive n-th root of unity and the n-th root of an element of K is adjoined, the resulting Kummer extension is an abelian extension (if K has characteristic p we should say that p doesn't divide n, since otherwise this can fail even to be a separable extension). In general, however, the Galois groups of n-th roots of elements operate both on the n-th roots and on the roots of unity, giving a non-abelian Galois group as semi-direct product. The Kummer theory gives a complete description of the abelian extension case, and the Kronecker–Weber theorem tells us that if K is the field of rational numbers, an extension is abelian if and only if it is a subfield of a field obtained by adjoining a root of unity.

There is an important analogy with the fundamental group in topology, which classifies all covering spaces of a space: abelian covers are classified by its abelianisation which relates directly to the first homology group.

Algebraic element

In mathematics, if L is a field extension of K, then an element a of L is called an algebraic element over K, or just algebraic over K, if there exists some non-zero polynomial g(x) with coefficients in K such that g(a) = 0. Elements of L which are not algebraic over K are called transcendental over K.

These notions generalize the algebraic numbers and the transcendental numbers (where the field extension is C/Q, C being the field of complex numbers and Q being the field of rational numbers).

Algebraic extension

In abstract algebra, a field extension L/K is called algebraic if every element of L is algebraic over K, i.e. if every element of L is a root of some non-zero polynomial with coefficients in K. Field extensions that are not algebraic, i.e. which contain transcendental elements, are called transcendental.

For example, the field extension R/Q, that is the field of real numbers as an extension of the field of rational numbers, is transcendental, while the field extensions C/R and Q(√2)/Q are algebraic, where C is the field of complex numbers.

All transcendental extensions are of infinite degree. This in turn implies that all finite extensions are algebraic. The converse is not true however: there are infinite extensions which are algebraic. For instance, the field of all algebraic numbers is an infinite algebraic extension of the rational numbers.

If a is algebraic over K, then K[a], the set of all polynomials in a with coefficients in K, is not only a ring but a field: an algebraic extension of K which has finite degree over K. The converse is true as well, if K[a] is a field, then a is algebraic over K. In the special case where K = Q is the field of rational numbers, Q[a] is an example of an algebraic number field.

A field with no nontrivial algebraic extensions is called algebraically closed. An example is the field of complex numbers. Every field has an algebraic extension which is algebraically closed (called its algebraic closure), but proving this in general requires some form of the axiom of choice.

An extension L/K is algebraic if and only if every sub K-algebra of L is a field.

Algebraic function field

In mathematics, an (algebraic) function field of n variables over the field k is a finitely generated field extension K/k which has transcendence degree n over k. Equivalently, an algebraic function field of n variables over k may be defined as a finite field extension of the field K=k(x1,...,xn) of rational functions in n variables over k.

Algebraic number field

In mathematics, an algebraic number field (or simply number field) F is a finite degree (and hence algebraic) field extension of the field of rational numbers Q. Thus F is a field that contains Q and has finite dimension when considered as a vector space over Q.

The study of algebraic number fields, and, more generally, of algebraic extensions of the field of rational numbers, is the central topic of algebraic number theory.

Degree of a field extension

In mathematics, more specifically field theory, the degree of a field extension is a rough measure of the "size" of the field extension. The concept plays an important role in many parts of mathematics, including algebra and number theory — indeed in any area where fields appear prominently.

Doubling the cube

Doubling the cube, also known as the Delian problem, is an ancient geometric problem. Given the edge of a cube, the problem requires the construction of the edge of a second cube whose volume is double that of the first. As with the related problems of squaring the circle and trisecting the angle, doubling the cube is now known to be impossible using only a compass and straightedge, but even in ancient times solutions were known that employed other tools.

The Egyptians, Indians, and particularly the Greeks were aware of the problem and made many futile attempts at solving what they saw as an obstinate but soluble problem. However, the nonexistence of a solution was finally proven by Pierre Wantzel in 1837.

In algebraic terms, doubling a unit cube requires the construction of a line segment of length x, where x3 = 2; in other words, x = 3√2, the cube root of two. This is because a cube of side length 1 has a volume of 13 = 1, and a cube of twice that volume (a volume of 2) has a side length of the cube root of 2. The impossibility of doubling the cube is therefore equivalent to the statement that 3√2 is not a constructible number. This is a consequence of the fact that the coordinates of a new point constructed by a compass and straightedge are roots of polynomials over the field generated by the coordinates of previous points, of no greater degree than a quadratic. This implies that the degree of the field extension generated by a constructible point must be a power of 2. The field extension generated by 3√2, however, is of degree 3.

Galois cohomology

In mathematics, Galois cohomology is the study of the group cohomology of Galois modules, that is, the application of homological algebra to modules for Galois groups. A Galois group G associated to a field extension L/K acts in a natural way on some abelian groups, for example those constructed directly from L, but also through other Galois representations that may be derived by more abstract means. Galois cohomology accounts for the way in which taking Galois-invariant elements fails to be an exact functor.

Galois group

In mathematics, more specifically in the area of abstract algebra known as Galois theory, the Galois group of a certain type of field extension is a specific group associated with the field extension. The study of field extensions and their relationship to the polynomials that give rise to them via Galois groups is called Galois theory, so named in honor of Évariste Galois who first discovered them.

For a more elementary discussion of Galois groups in terms of permutation groups, see the article on Galois theory.

Galois theory

In mathematics, Galois theory provides a connection between field theory and group theory. Using Galois theory, certain problems in field theory can be reduced to group theory, which is in some sense simpler and better understood.

The subject is named after Évariste Galois, who introduced it for studying the roots

of a polynomial and characterizing the polynomial equations that are solvable by radicals in terms of properties of the permutation group of their roots—an equation is solvable by radicals if its roots may be expressed by a formula involving only integers, nth roots and the four basic arithmetic operations.

The theory has been popularized (among mathematicians) and developed by Richard Dedekind, Leopold Kronecker and Emil Artin, and others, who, in particular, interpreted the permutation group of the roots as the automorphism group of a field extension.

Galois theory has been generalized to Galois connections and Grothendieck's Galois theory.

Irreducible polynomial

In mathematics, an irreducible polynomial (or prime polynomial) is, roughly speaking, a non-constant polynomial that cannot be factored into the product of two non-constant polynomials. The property of irreducibility depends on the nature of the coefficients that are accepted for the possible factors, that is, the field or ring to which the coefficients of the polynomial and its possible factors are supposed to belong. For example, the polynomial x2 − 2 is a polynomial with integer coefficients, but, as every integer is also a real number, it is also a polynomial with real coefficients. It is irreducible if it is considered as a polynomial with integer coefficients, but it factors as if it is considered as a polynomial with real coefficients. One says that the polynomial x2 − 2 is irreducible over the integers but not over the reals.

A polynomial that is irreducible over any field containing the coefficients is absolutely irreducible. By the fundamental theorem of algebra, a univariate polynomial is absolutely irreducible if and only if its degree is one. On the other hand, with several indeterminates, there are absolutely irreducible polynomials of any degree, such as for any positive integer n.

A polynomial that is not irreducible is sometimes said to be reducible. However, this term must be used with care, as it may refer to other notions of reduction.

Irreducible polynomials appear naturally in the study of polynomial factorization and algebraic field extensions.

It is helpful to compare irreducible polynomials to prime numbers: prime numbers (together with the corresponding negative numbers of equal magnitude) are the irreducible integers. They exhibit many of the general properties of the concept of "irreducibility" that equally apply to irreducible polynomials, such as the essentially unique factorization into prime or irreducible factors.

Normal extension

In abstract algebra, a normal extension is an algebraic field extension L/K for which every polynomial that is irreducible over K either has no root in L or splits into linear factors in L. Bourbaki calls such an extension a quasi-Galois extension.

Perfect field

In algebra, a field k is said to be perfect if any one of the following equivalent conditions holds:

Otherwise, k is called imperfect.

In particular, all fields of characteristic zero and all finite fields are perfect.

Perfect fields are significant because Galois theory over these fields becomes simpler, since the general Galois assumption of field extensions being separable is automatically satisfied over these fields (see third condition above).

Another important property of perfect fields is that they admit Witt vectors.

More generally, a ring of characteristic p (p a prime) is called perfect if the Frobenius endomorphism is an automorphism. (This is equivalent to the above condition "every element of k is a pth power" for integral domains.)

Quadratic field

In algebraic number theory, a quadratic field is an algebraic number field K of degree two over Q, the rational numbers. The map d ↦ Q(√d) is a bijection from the set of all square-free integers d ≠ 0, 1 to the set of all quadratic fields. If d > 0 the corresponding quadratic field is called a real quadratic field, and for d < 0 an imaginary quadratic field or complex quadratic field, corresponding to whether it is or not a subfield of the field of the real numbers.

Quadratic fields have been studied in great depth, initially as part of the theory of binary quadratic forms. There remain some unsolved problems. The class number problem is particularly important.

Separable extension

In field theory, a subfield of algebra, a separable extension is an algebraic field extension such that for every , the minimal polynomial of over F is a separable polynomial (i.e., its formal derivative is not zero; see below for other equivalent definitions). Otherwise, the extension is said to be inseparable.

Every algebraic extension of a field of characteristic zero is separable, and every algebraic extension of a finite field is separable. It follows that most extensions that are considered in mathematics are separable. Nevertheless, the concept of separability is important, as the existence of inseparable extensions is the main obstacle for extending many theorems proved in characteristic zero to non-zero characteristic. For example, the fundamental theorem of Galois theory is a theorem about normal extensions, which remains true in non-zero characteristic only if the extensions are also supposed to be separable.

The extreme opposite of the concept of separable extension, namely the concept of purely inseparable extension, also occurs quite naturally, as every algebraic extension may be decomposed in a unique way as a purely inseparable extension of separable extension. An algebraic extension of fields of non-zero characteristics p is a purely inseparable extension if and only if for every , the minimal polynomial of over F is not a separable polynomial, or, equivalently, for every element x of E, there is a positive integer k such that .

Simple extension

In field theory, a simple extension is a field extension which is generated by the adjunction of a single element. Simple extensions are well understood and can be completely classified.

The primitive element theorem provides a characterization of the finite simple extensions.

Transcendence degree

In abstract algebra, the transcendence degree of a field extension L /K is a certain rather coarse measure of the "size" of the extension. Specifically, it is defined as the largest cardinality of an algebraically independent subset of L over K.

A subset S of L is a transcendence basis of L /K if it is algebraically independent over K and if furthermore L is an algebraic extension of the field K(S) (the field obtained by adjoining the elements of S to K). One can show that every field extension has a transcendence basis, and that all transcendence bases have the same cardinality; this cardinality is equal to the transcendence degree of the extension and is denoted trdegK L or trdeg(L /K).

If no field K is specified, the transcendence degree of a field L is its degree relative to the prime field of the same characteristic, i.e., Q if L is of characteristic 0 and Fp if L is of characteristic p.

The field extension L /K is purely transcendental if there is a subset S of L that is algebraically independent over K and such that L = K(S).

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