Linearly ordered group

In abstract algebra a linearly ordered or totally ordered group is a group G equipped with a total order "≤", that is translation-invariant. This may have different meanings. Let a, b, c  G, we say that (G, ≤) is a

  • left-ordered group if a  b implies c+a  c+b,
  • right-ordered group if a  b implies a+c  b+c,
  • bi-ordered group if it is both left-ordered and right-ordered.

Note that G need not be abelian, even though we use additive notation (+) for the group operation.


In analogy with ordinary numbers, we call an element c of an ordered group positive if 0  c and c  0, where "0" here denotes the identity element of the group (not necessarily the familiar zero of the real numbers). The set of positive elements in a group is often denoted with G+.[lower-alpha 1]

Elements of a linearly ordered group satisfy trichotomy: every element a of a linearly ordered group G is either positive (a  G+), negative (−a  G+), or zero (a = 0). If a linearly ordered group G is not trivial (i.e. 0 is not its only element), then G+ is infinite, since all multiples of a non-zero element are distinct.[lower-alpha 2] Therefore, every nontrivial linearly ordered group is infinite.

If a is an element of a linearly ordered group G, then the absolute value of a, denoted by |a|, is defined to be:

If in addition the group G is abelian, then for any a, b  G the triangle inequality is satisfied: |a + b| ≤ |a| + |b|.


Any totally ordered group is torsion-free. Conversely, F. W. Levi showed that an abelian group admits a linear order if and only if it is torsion-free (Levi 1942).

Otto Hölder showed that every Archimedean group (a bi-ordered group satisfying an Archimedean property) is isomorphic to a subgroup of the additive group of real numbers, (Fuchs & Salce 2001, p. 61). If we write the Archimedean l.o. group multiplicatively, this may be shown by considering the Dedekind completion, of the closure of a l.o. group under th roots. We endow this space with the usual topology of a linear order, and then it can be shown that for each the exponential maps are well defined order preserving/reversing, topological group isomorphisms. Completing a l.o. group can be difficult in the non-Archimedean case. In these cases, one may classify a group by its rank: which is related to the order type of the largest sequence of convex subgroups.

A large source of examples of left-orderable groups comes from groups acting on the real line by order preserving homeomorphisms. Actually, for countable groups, this is known to be a characterization of left-orderability, see for instance (Ghys 2001).

See also


  1. Note that the + is written as a subscript, to distinguish from G+ which includes the identity element. See e.g. IsarMathLib, p. 344.
  2. Formally, given any non-zero element c (which we can assume to be positive, otherwise take −c) and natural number k we have , so by induction, given two natural numbers k < l, we have , so there is an injection from the natural numbers into G.


  • Levi, F.W. (1942), "Ordered groups.", Proc. Indian Acad. Sci., A16: 256–263
  • Fuchs, László; Salce, Luigi (2001), Modules over non-Noetherian domains, Mathematical Surveys and Monographs, 84, Providence, R.I.: American Mathematical Society, ISBN 978-0-8218-1963-0, MR 1794715
  • Ghys, É. (2001), "Groups acting on the circle.", L´Eins. Math., 47: 329–407
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