Quotient ring

In ring theory, a branch of abstract algebra, a quotient ring, also known as factor ring, difference ring[1] or residue class ring, is a construction quite similar to the quotient groups of group theory and the quotient spaces of linear algebra.[2][3] It is a specific example of a quotient, as viewed from the general setting of universal algebra. One starts with a ring R and a two-sided ideal I in R, and constructs a new ring, the quotient ring R / I, whose elements are the cosets of I in R subject to special + and operations.

Quotient rings are distinct from the so-called 'quotient field', or field of fractions, of an integral domain as well as from the more general 'rings of quotients' obtained by localization.

Formal quotient ring constructionEdit

Given a ring   and a two-sided ideal   in  , we may define an equivalence relation   on   as follows:

  if and only if   is in  .

Using the ideal properties, it is not difficult to check that   is a congruence relation. In case  , we say that   and   are congruent modulo  . The equivalence class of the element   in   is given by


This equivalence class is also sometimes written as   and called the "residue class of   modulo  ".

The set of all such equivalence classes is denoted by  ; it becomes a ring, the factor ring or quotient ring of   modulo  , if one defines

  •  ;
  •  .

(Here one has to check that these definitions are well-defined. Compare coset and quotient group.) The zero-element of   is  , and the multiplicative identity is  .

The map   from   to   defined by   is a surjective ring homomorphism, sometimes called the natural quotient map or the canonical homomorphism.


  • The quotient ring R / {0} is naturally isomorphic to R, and R / R is the zero ring {0}, since, by our definition, for any r in R, we have that [r] = r + "R" := {r + b : b ∈ "R"}}, which equals R itself. This fits with the rule of thumb that the larger the ideal I, the smaller the quotient ring R / I. If I is a proper ideal of R, i.e., IR, then R / I is not the zero ring.
  • Consider the ring of integers Z and the ideal of even numbers, denoted by 2Z. Then the quotient ring Z / 2Z has only two elements, the coset 0+2Z consisting of the even numbers and the coset 1+2Z consisting of the odd numbers; applying the definition, [z] = z + 2Z := {z + 2y: 2y ∈ 2Z}, where 2Z is the ideal of even numbers. It is naturally isomorphic to the finite field with two elements, F2. Intuitively: if you think of all the even numbers as 0, then every integer is either 0 (if it is even) or 1 (if it is odd and therefore differs from an even number by 1). Modular arithmetic is essentially arithmetic in the quotient ring Z / nZ (which has n elements).
  • Now consider the ring R[X] of polynomials in the variable X with real coefficients, and the ideal I = (X2 + 1) consisting of all multiples of the polynomial X2 + 1. The quotient ring R[X] / (X2 + 1) is naturally isomorphic to the field of complex numbers C, with the class [X] playing the role of the imaginary unit i. The reason is that we "forced" X2 + 1 = 0, i.e. X2 = −1, which is the defining property of i.
  • Generalizing the previous example, quotient rings are often used to construct field extensions. Suppose K is some field and f is an irreducible polynomial in K[X]. Then L = K[X] / (f) is a field whose minimal polynomial over K is f, which contains K as well as an element x = X + (f).
  • One important instance of the previous example is the construction of the finite fields. Consider for instance the field F3 = Z / 3Z with three elements. The polynomial f(X) = X2 + 1 is irreducible over F3 (since it has no root), and we can construct the quotient ring F3[X] / (f). This is a field with 32 = 9 elements, denoted by F9. The other finite fields can be constructed in a similar fashion.
  • The coordinate rings of algebraic varieties are important examples of quotient rings in algebraic geometry. As a simple case, consider the real variety V = {(x, y) | x2 = y3 } as a subset of the real plane R2. The ring of real-valued polynomial functions defined on V can be identified with the quotient ring R[X,Y] / (X2Y3), and this is the coordinate ring of V. The variety V is now investigated by studying its coordinate ring.
  • Suppose M is a C-manifold, and p is a point of M. Consider the ring R = C(M) of all C-functions defined on M and let I be the ideal in R consisting of those functions f which are identically zero in some neighborhood U of p (where U may depend on f). Then the quotient ring R / I is the ring of germs of C-functions on M at p.
  • Consider the ring F of finite elements of a hyperreal field *R. It consists of all hyperreal numbers differing from a standard real by an infinitesimal amount, or equivalently: of all hyperreal numbers x for which a standard integer n with n < x < n exists. The set I of all infinitesimal numbers in *R, together with 0, is an ideal in F, and the quotient ring F / I is isomorphic to the real numbers R. The isomorphism is induced by associating to every element x of F the standard part of x, i.e. the unique real number that differs from x by an infinitesimal. In fact, one obtains the same result, namely R, if one starts with the ring F of finite hyperrationals (i.e. ratio of a pair of hyperintegers), see construction of the real numbers.

Alternative complex planesEdit

The quotients R[X] / (X), R[X] / (X + 1), and R[X] / (X − 1) are all isomorphic to R and gain little interest at first. But note that R[X] / (X2) is called the dual number plane in geometric algebra. It consists only of linear binomials as "remainders" after reducing an element of R[X] by X2. This alternative complex plane arises as a subalgebra whenever the algebra contains a real line and a nilpotent.

Furthermore, the ring quotient R[X] / (X2 − 1) does split into R[X] / (X + 1) and R[X] / (X − 1), so this ring is often viewed as the direct sum RR. Nevertheless, an alternative complex number z = x + y j is suggested by j as a root of X2 − 1, compared to i as root of X2 + 1 = 0. This plane of split-complex numbers normalizes the direct sum R'R by providing a basis {1, j} for 2-space where the identity of the algebra is at unit distance from the zero. With this basis a unit hyperbola may be compared to the unit circle of the ordinary complex plane.

Quaternions and alternativesEdit

Suppose X and Y are two, non-commuting, indeterminates and form the free algebra RX, Y. Then Hamilton’s quaternions of 1843 can be cast as


If Y2 − 1 is substituted for Y2 + 1, then one obtains the ring of split-quaternions. Substituting minus for plus in both the quadratic binomials also results in split-quaternions. The anti-commutative property YX = −XY implies that XY has as its square

(XY)(XY) = X(YX)Y = −X(XY)Y = −XXYY = −1.

The three types of biquaternions can also be written as quotients by use of the free algebra with three indeterminates RX, Y, Z⟩ and constructing appropriate ideals.


Clearly, if R is a commutative ring, then so is R / I; the converse however is not true in general.

The natural quotient map p has I as its kernel; since the kernel of every ring homomorphism is a two-sided ideal, we can state that two-sided ideals are precisely the kernels of ring homomorphisms.

The intimate relationship between ring homomorphisms, kernels and quotient rings can be summarized as follows: the ring homomorphisms defined on R / I are essentially the same as the ring homomorphisms defined on R that vanish (i.e. are zero) on I. More precisely, given a two-sided ideal I in R and a ring homomorphism f : RS whose kernel contains I, there exists precisely one ring homomorphism g : R / IS with gp = f (where p is the natural quotient map). The map g here is given by the well-defined rule g([a]) = f(a) for all a in R. Indeed, this universal property can be used to define quotient rings and their natural quotient maps.

As a consequence of the above, one obtains the fundamental statement: every ring homomorphism f : RS induces a ring isomorphism between the quotient ring R / ker(f) and the image im(f). (See also: fundamental theorem on homomorphisms.)

The ideals of R and R / I are closely related: the natural quotient map provides a bijection between the two-sided ideals of R that contain I and the two-sided ideals of R / I (the same is true for left and for right ideals). This relationship between two-sided ideal extends to a relationship between the corresponding quotient rings: if M is a two-sided ideal in R that contains I, and we write M / I for the corresponding ideal in R / I (i.e. M / I = p(M)), the quotient rings R / M and (R / I) / (M / I) are naturally isomorphic via the (well-defined!) mapping a + M ↦ (a + I) + M / I.

The following facts prove useful in commutative algebra and algebraic geometry: for R ≠ {0} commutative, R / I is a field if and only if I is a maximal ideal, while R / I is an integral domain if and only if I is a prime ideal. A number of similar statements relate properties of the ideal I to properties of the quotient ring R / I.

The Chinese remainder theorem states that, if the ideal I is the intersection (or equivalently, the product) of pairwise coprime ideals I1, ..., Ik, then the quotient ring R / I is isomorphic to the product of the quotient rings R / In, n = 1, ..., k.

For algebras over a ringEdit

An associative algebra A over a commutative ring R is a ring itself. If I is an ideal in A (closed under R-multiplication), then A / I inherits the structure of an algebra over R and is the quotient algebra.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Jacobson, Nathan (1984). Structure of Rings (revised ed.). American Mathematical Soc. ISBN 0-821-87470-5.
  2. ^ Dummit, David S.; Foote, Richard M. (2004). Abstract Algebra (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-43334-9.
  3. ^ Lang, Serge (2002). Algebra. Graduate Texts in Mathematics. Springer. ISBN 0-387-95385-X.

Further referencesEdit

  • F. Kasch (1978) Moduln und Ringe, translated by DAR Wallace (1982) Modules and Rings, Academic Press, page 33.
  • Neal H. McCoy (1948) Rings and Ideals, §13 Residue class rings, page 61, Carus Mathematical Monographs #8, Mathematical Association of America.
  • Joseph Rotman (1998). Galois Theory (2nd edition). Springer. pp. 21–3. ISBN 0-387-98541-7.
  • B.L. van der Waerden (1970) Algebra, translated by Fred Blum and John R Schulenberger, Frederick Ungar Publishing, New York. See Chapter 3.5, "Ideals. Residue Class Rings", pages 47 to 51.

External linksEdit