The Unapologetic Mathematician

Mathematics for the interested outsider

The First Isomorphism Theorem

Today I want to walk through what’s called the “First Isomorphism Theorem” for groups. There are two more, but the first is really more interesting in my view. I’ll start with a high-level sketch: kernels of homomorphisms are normal subgroups, images are quotient groups, and every homomorphism is a quotient followed by an isomorphism.

First I’m going to need a couple homomorphisms. If we’ve got a group G and a normal subgroup N, there’s immediately a homomorphism \pi_{(G,N)}:G\rightarrow G/N. Just send each g to its coset gN. It should be clear that every coset gets hit at least once, so this is an epimorphism, and that its kernel is exactly N. We call \pi_{(G,N)} the “canonical projection” or the “canonical epimorphism” from G to G/N.

On the other hand, if G is a group and H is any subgroup, we have a homomorphism \iota_{(G,H)}:H\rightarrow G given by just sending every element of H to itself inside G. This is such a natural identification to make that it feels a little weird to think of it as a homomorphism at all, but it actually turns out to be quite useful. The kernel of \iota_{(G,H)} is trivial, making it a monomorphism. We call it the “canonical injection” or “canonical monomorphism” from H to G.

Now consider any homomorphism f:G\rightarrow H. If k is in the kernel of ff(k) is the identity e_H of H — and g is any element of G, we calculate

f(gkg^{-1}) = f(g)f(k)f(g^{-1}) = f(g)f(g)^{-1} = e_H

so gkg^{-1} is in the kernel as well. Thus the kernel is a normal subgroup.

So every kernel is a normal subgroup, and the canonical projection shows that every normal subgroup shows up as the kernel of some homomorphism.

Now we can write any homomorphism f as a composition

G\rightarrow^{\pi_{(G,{\rm Ker}(f))}}G/{\rm Ker}(f)\rightarrow^{f'} {\rm Im}(f)\rightarrow^{\iota_{(H,{\rm Im}(f)}}H

where I’ve written the name of each composition next to its arrow. That is, we first project onto the quotient of the domain by the kernel of f, then we send that to the image of f by a homomorphism we call f', and finally we inject the image into the codomain. As a bonus, f' is an isomorphism!

Okay, so how do we define f'? If we write the kernel of f as N, we need to figure out what to do with a coset gN. If g and gn are two elements of gN, then f(gn) = f(g)f(n) = f(g), so f sends every element of gN to the same element of H. We define f'(gN) = f(g).

Now let’s say f'(gN) = e_H. This means that f(g)=e_H, so g is in N already, and gN is the identity of G/N. The kernel of f' is trivial, so f' is a monomorphism. On the other hand, every element in {\rm Im}(f) is f(g) for some g, so each one is also f'(gN) for some gN. That makes f' an epimorphism, and thus an isomorphism. Q.E.D.

Every homomorphism works like this: you divide out some kernel, hit the quotient group with an isomorphism, and include the result into the target group. Since isomorphisms don’t really change anything about a group and the inclusion is pretty simple too, all the really interesting stuff goes on in the first step. The homomorphisms that can come out of G are essentially determined by the normal subgroups of G. Because of this, we call a group with no nontrivial normal subgroups “simple”. The kernel of an homomorphism from a simple group is either trivial or the whole group.

What we’re starting to see here is the tip of a much deeper approach to algebra. The internal structure of a group is intimately bound up with the external structure of the homomorphisms linking it to other groups. Each one determines, and is determined by the other, and this duality can be a powerful tool for answering questions on one side by turning them into questions on the other side.

February 17, 2007 - Posted by | Algebra, Group Homomorphisms, Group theory


  1. […] that the First Isomorphism Theorem tells us that we can factor any homomorphism into an epimorphism from the domain onto a quotient, […]

    Pingback by Exact Sequences « The Unapologetic Mathematician | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] First Isomorphism Theorem (for rings) Just like we had for groups, there is an isomorphism theorem for rings. In fact, the demonstration goes much the same as it did […]

    Pingback by The First Isomorphism Theorem (for rings) « The Unapologetic Mathematician | April 7, 2007 | Reply

  3. […] Theorem for modules Okay, getting a little back down to Earth now. Just like we had for groups and rings, we have an isomorphism theorem for […]

    Pingback by Submodules, quotient modules, and the First Isomorphism Theorem for modules « The Unapologetic Mathematician | May 9, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] any subset of a set comes with an injective function “including” into . Similarly, subgroups and subrings come with “inclusion” monomorphisms. We generalize this concept and define […]

    Pingback by Special kinds of morphisms, subobjects, and quotient objects « The Unapologetic Mathematician | May 29, 2007 | Reply

  5. […] Theorem (for Abelian Categories) We had versions of the first isomorphism theorem for groups, rings, and modules. Now we’ll do it in a more general setting. We’re going to use it […]

    Pingback by The First Isomorphism Theorem (for Abelian Categories) « The Unapologetic Mathematician | September 25, 2007 | Reply

  6. […] action of a group is isomorphic to a faithful group action of one of its quotient groups. (The first isomorphism theorem is […]

    Pingback by GILA II: Orbits, stabilizers, and classifying group actions « Annoying Precision | June 15, 2009 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: