Regular semigroup

In mathematics, a regular semigroup is a semigroup S in which every element is regular, i.e., for each element a, there exists an element x such that axa = a.[1] Regular semigroups are one of the most-studied classes of semigroups, and their structure is particularly amenable to study via Green's relations.[2]


Regular semigroups were introduced by J. A. Green in his influential 1951 paper "On the structure of semigroups"; this was also the paper in which Green's relations were introduced. The concept of regularity in a semigroup was adapted from an analogous condition for rings, already considered by John von Neumann.[3] It was Green's study of regular semigroups which led him to define his celebrated relations. According to a footnote in Green 1951, the suggestion that the notion of regularity be applied to semigroups was first made by David Rees.

The term inversive semigroup (French: demi-groupe inversif) was historically used as synonym in the papers of Gabriel Thierrin (a student of Paul Dubreil) in the 1950s,[4][5] and it is still used occasionally.[6]

The basics

There are two equivalent ways in which to define a regular semigroup S:

(1) for each a in S, there is an x in S, which is called a pseudoinverse,[7] with axa = a;
(2) every element a has at least one inverse b, in the sense that aba = a and bab = b.

To see the equivalence of these definitions, first suppose that S is defined by (2). Then b serves as the required x in (1). Conversely, if S is defined by (1), then xax is an inverse for a, since a(xax)a = axa(xa) = axa = a and (xax)a(xax) = x(axa)(xax) = xa(xax) = x(axa)x = xax.[8]

The set of inverses (in the above sense) of an element a in an arbitrary semigroup S is denoted by V(a).[9] Thus, another way of expressing definition (2) above is to say that in a regular semigroup, V(a) is nonempty, for every a in S. The product of any element a with any b in V(a) is always idempotent: abab = ab, since aba = a.[10]

Examples of regular semigroups

Unique inverses and unique pseudoinverses

A regular semigroup in which idempotents commute is an inverse semigroup, or equivalently, every element has a unique inverse. To see this, let S be a regular semigroup in which idempotents commute. Then every element of S has at least one inverse. Suppose that a in S has two inverses b and c, i.e.,

aba = a, bab = b, aca = a and cac = c. Also ab, ba, ac and ca are idempotents as above.


b = bab = b(aca)b = bac(a)b =bac(aca)b = bac(ac)(ab) = bac(ab)(ac) = ba(ca)bac = ca(ba)bac = c(aba)bac = cabac = cac = c.

So, by commuting the pairs of idempotents ab & ac and ba & ca, the inverse of a is shown to be unique. Conversely, it can be shown that any inverse semigroup is a regular semigroup in which idempotents commute.[12]

The existence of a unique pseudoinverse implies the existence of a unique inverse, but the opposite is not true. For example, in the symmetric inverse semigroup, the empty transformation Ø does not have a unique pseudoinverse, because Ø = ØfØ for any transformation f. The inverse of Ø is unique however, because only one f satisfies the additional constraint that f = fØf, namely f = Ø. This remark holds more generally in any semigroup with zero. Furthermore, if every element has a unique pseudoinverse, then the semigroup is a group, and the unique pseudoinverse of an element coincides with the group inverse.[13]

Green's relations

Recall that the principal ideals of a semigroup S are defined in terms of S1, the semigroup with identity adjoined; this is to ensure that an element a belongs to the principal right, left and two-sided ideals which it generates. In a regular semigroup S, however, an element a = axa automatically belongs to these ideals, without recourse to adjoining an identity. Green's relations can therefore be redefined for regular semigroups as follows:

if, and only if, Sa = Sb;
if, and only if, aS = bS;
if, and only if, SaS = SbS.[14]

In a regular semigroup S, every - and -class contains at least one idempotent. If a is any element of S and α is any inverse for a, then a is -related to αa and -related to .[15]

Theorem. Let S be a regular semigroup, and let a and b be elements of S. Then

  • if, and only if, there exist α in V(a) and β in V(b) such that αa = βb;
  • if, and only if, there exist α in V(a) and β in V(b) such that aα = bβ.[16]

If S is an inverse semigroup, then the idempotent in each - and -class is unique.[12]

Special classes of regular semigroups

Some special classes of regular semigroups are:[17]

  • Locally inverse semigroups: a regular semigroup S is locally inverse if eSe is an inverse semigroup, for each idempotent e.
  • Orthodox semigroups: a regular semigroup S is orthodox if its subset of idempotents forms a subsemigroup.
  • Generalised inverse semigroups: a regular semigroup S is called a generalised inverse semigroup if its idempotents form a normal band, i.e., xyzx = xzyx, for all idempotents x, y, z.

The class of generalised inverse semigroups is the intersection of the class of locally inverse semigroups and the class of orthodox semigroups.[18]

All inverse semigroups are orthodox and locally inverse. The converse statements do not hold.


See also


  1. Howie 1995 : 54.
  2. Howie 2002.
  3. von Neumann 1936.
  4. Christopher Hollings (16 July 2014). Mathematics across the Iron Curtain: A History of the Algebraic Theory of Semigroups. American Mathematical Society. p. 181. ISBN 978-1-4704-1493-1.
  6. Jonathan S. Golan (1999). Power Algebras over Semirings: With Applications in Mathematics and Computer Science. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-7923-5834-3.
  7. Klip, Knauer and Mikhalev : p. 33
  8. Clifford and Preston 1961 : Lemma 1.14.
  9. Howie 1995 : p. 52.
  10. Clifford and Preston 1961 : p. 26.
  11. Howie 1995 : Lemma 2.4.4.
  12. Howie 1995 : Theorem 5.1.1.
  13. Proof:
  14. Howie 1995 : 55.
  15. Clifford and Preston 1961 : Lemma 1.13.
  16. Howie 1995 : Proposition 2.4.1.
  17. Howie 1995 : Section 2.4 & Chapter 6.
  18. Howie 1995 : 222.


  • A. H. Clifford and G. B. Preston, The Algebraic Theory of Semigroups, Volume 1, Mathematical Surveys of the American Mathematical Society, No. 7, Providence, R.I., 1961.
  • J. M. Howie, Fundamentals of Semigroup Theory, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995.
  • M. Kilp, U. Knauer, A.V. Mikhalev, Monoids, Acts and Categories with Applications to Wreath Products and Graphs, De Gruyter Expositions in Mathematics vol. 29, Walter de Gruyter, 2000, ISBN 3-11-015248-7.
  • J. A. Green (1951). "On the structure of semigroups". Annals of Mathematics. Second Series. 54 (1): 163–172. doi:10.2307/1969317. hdl:10338.dmlcz/100067. JSTOR 1969317.
  • J. M. Howie, Semigroups, past, present and future, Proceedings of the International Conference on Algebra and Its Applications, 2002, 6–20.
  • J. von Neumann (1936). "On regular rings". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 22 (12): 707–713. doi:10.1073/pnas.22.12.707. PMC 1076849. PMID 16577757.
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