Symmetric relation

A symmetric relation is a type of binary relation. An example is the relation "is equal to", because if a = b is true then b = a is also true. Formally, a binary relation R over a set X is symmetric if and only if:

If RT represents the converse of R, then R is symmetric if and only if R = RT.

Symmetry, along with reflexivity and transitivity, are the three defining properties of an equivalence relation.


In mathematics

Outside mathematics

  • "is married to" (in most legal systems)
  • "is a fully biological sibling of"
  • "is a homophone of"
  • "is co-worker of"
  • "is teammate of"

Relationship to asymmetric and antisymmetric relations

A nonempty relation can be both symmetric and asymmetric (consider the relation of equality). However, a relation can be neither symmetric nor asymmetric, which is the case for "is less than or equal to" and "preys on").

Symmetric and antisymmetric (where the only way a can be related to b and b be related to a is if a = b) are actually independent of each other, as these examples show.

Mathematical examples
SymmetricNot symmetric
Antisymmetricequality"is less than or equal to"
Not antisymmetriccongruence in modular arithmetic"is divisible by", over the set of integers
Non-mathematical examples
SymmetricNot symmetric
Antisymmetric"is the same person as, and is married""is the plural of"
Not antisymmetric"is a full biological sibling of""preys on"

Additional aspects

A symmetric relation that is also transitive and reflexive is an equivalence relation.

One way to conceptualize a symmetric relation in graph theory is that a symmetric relation is an edge, with the edge's two vertices being the two entities so related. Thus, symmetric relations and undirected graphs are combinatorially equivalent objects.

See also

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