Affine variety

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A cubic plane curve given by

In algebraic geometry, an affine variety, or affine algebraic variety, over a algebraically closed field k is the zero-locus in of some finite family of polynomials of n variables with coefficients in k that generate a prime ideal. If the condition of generating a prime ideal is removed, such a set is called an (affine) algebraic set. A Zariski open subvariety of an affine variety is called a quasi-affine variety.

Some texts do not require a prime ideal, and call irreducible an algebraic variety defined by a prime ideal. This article refers to zero-loci of not necessarily prime ideals as affine algebraic sets.

In some contexts, it is useful to distinguish the field k in which the coefficients are considered, from the algebraically closed field K (containing k) over which the zero-locus is considered (that is, the points of the affine variety are in ). In this case, the variety is said defined over k, and the points of the variety that belong to are said k-rational or rational over k. In the common case where k is the field of real numbers, a k-rational point is called a real point.[1] When the field k is not specified, a rational point is a point that is rational over the rational numbers. For example, Fermat's Last Theorem asserts that the affine algebraic variety (it is a curve) defined by has no rational points for n integer greater this two.


An affine algebraic set is the set of solutions in an algebraically closed field k of a system of polynomial equations with coefficients in k. More precisely, if are polynomials with coefficients in k, they define an affine algebraic set

An affine (algebraic) variety is an affine algebraic set which is not the union of two proper affine algebraic subsets. Such an affine algebraic set is often said to be irreducible.

If X is an affine algebraic set defined by an ideal I, then the quotient ring is called the coordinate ring of X. If X is an affine variety, then I is prime, so the coordinate ring is an integral domain. The elements of the coordinate ring R are also called the regular functions or the polynomial functions on the variety. They form the ring of regular functions on the variety, or, simply, the ring of the variety; in other words (see #Structure sheaf), it is the space of global sections of the structure sheaf of X.

The dimension of a variety is an integer associated to every variety, and even to every algebraic set, whose importance relies on the large number of its equivalent definitions (see Dimension of an algebraic variety).

The Zariski topology[edit]

The affine algebraic sets of kn form the closed sets of a topology on kn, called the Zariski topology. This follows from the fact that and (in fact, a countable intersection of affine algebraic sets is an affine algebraic set).

The Zariski topology can also be described by way of basic open sets, where Zariski-open sets are countable unions of sets of the form for These basic open sets are the complements in kn of the closed sets zero loci of a single polynomial. If k is Noetherian (for instance, if k is a field or a principal ideal domain), then every ideal of k is finitely-generated, so every open set is a finite union of basic open sets.

If V is an affine subvariety of kn the Zariski topology on V is simply the subspace topology inherited from the Zariski topology on kn.

Geometry-algebra correspondence[edit]

The geometric structure of an affine variety is linked in a deep way to the algebraic structure of its coordinate ring. Let I and J be ideals of k[V], the coordinate ring of an affine variety V. Let I(V) be the set of all polynomials in which vanish on V, and let denote the radical of the ideal I, the set of polynomials f for which some power of f is in I. The reason that the base field is required to be algebraically closed is that affine varieties automatically satisfy Hilbert's nullstellensatz: for an ideal J in where k is an algebraically closed field,

Radical ideals (ideals which are their own radical) of k[V] correspond to algebraic subsets of V. Indeed, for radical ideals I and J, if and only if Hence V(I)=V(J) if and only if I=J. Furthermore, the function taking an affine algebraic set W and returning I(W), the set of all functions which also vanish on all points of W, is the inverse of the function assigning an algebraic set to a radical ideal, by the nullstellensatz. Hence the correspondence between affine algebraic sets and radical ideals is a bijection. The coordinate ring of an affine algebraic set is reduced (nilpotent-free), as an ideal I in a ring R is radical if and only if the quotient ring R/I is reduced.

Prime ideals of the coordinate ring correspond to affine subvarieties. An affine algebraic set V(I) can be written as the union of two other algebraic sets if and only if I=JK for proper ideals J and K not equal to I (in which case ). This is the case if and only if I is not prime. Affine subvarieties are precisely those whose coordinate ring is an integral domain. This is because an ideal is prime if and only if the quotient of the ring by the ideal is an integral domain.

Maximal ideals of k[V] correspond to points of V. If I and J are radical ideals, then if and only if As maximal ideals are radical, maximal ideals correspond to minimal algebraic sets (those which contain no proper algebraic subsets), which are points in V. If V is an affine variety with coordinate ring this correspondence becomes explicit through the map where denotes the image in the quotient algebra R of the polynomial An algebraic subset is a point if and only if the coordinate ring of the subset is a field, as the quotient of a ring by a maximal ideal is a field.

The following table summarises this correspondence, for algebraic subsets of an affine variety and ideals of the corresponding coordinate ring:

Type of algebraic set Type of ideal Type of coordinate ring
affine algebraic subset radical ideal reduced ring
affine subvariety prime ideal integral domain
point maximal ideal field

Morphisms of affine varieties[edit]

A morphism, or regular map, of affine varieties is a function between affine varieties which is polynomial in each coordinate: more precisely, for affine varieties Vkn and Wkm, a morphism from V to W is a map φ : VW of the form φ(a1, ..., an) = (f1(a1, ..., an), ..., fm(a1, ..., an)), where fik[X1, ..., Xn] for each i = 1, ..., m. These are the morphisms in the category of affine varieties.

There is a one-to-one correspondence between morphisms of affine varieties over an algebraically closed field k, and homomorphisms of coordinate rings of affine varieties over k going in the opposite direction. Because of this, along with the fact that there is a one-to-one correspondence between affine varieties over k and their coordinate rings, the category of affine varieties over k is dual to the category of coordinate rings of affine varieties over k. The category of coordinate rings of affine varieties over k is precisely the category of finitely-generated, nilpotent-free algebras over k.

More precisely, for each morphism φ : VW of affine varieties, there is a homomorphism φ# : k[W] → k[V] between the coordinate rings (going in the opposite direction), and for each such homomorphism, there is a morphism of the varieties associated to the coordinate rings. We can show this explicitly: let Vkn and Wkm be affine varieties with coordinate rings k[V] = k[X1, ..., Xn] / I and k[W] = k[Y1, ..., Ym] / J respectively. Let φ : VW be a morphism. Indeed, a homomorphism between polynomial rings θ : k[Y1, ..., Ym] / Jk[X1, ..., Xn] / I factors uniquely through the ring k[X1, ..., Xn], and a homomorphism ψ : k[Y1, ..., Ym] / Jk[X1, ..., Xn] is determined uniquely by the images of Y1, ..., Ym. Hence, each homomorphism φ# : k[W] → k[V] corresponds uniquely to a choice of image for each Yi. Then given any morphism φ = (f1, ..., fm) from V to W, we can construct a homomorphism φ# : k[W] → k[V] which sends Yi to where is the equivalence class of fi in k[V].

Similarly, for each homomorphism of the coordinate rings, we can construct a morphism of the affine varieties in the opposite direction. Mirroring the parargraph above, we start with a homomorphism φ# : k[W] → k[V] which sends Yi to a polynomial in k[V]. This corresponds to the morphism of varieties φ : VW defined by φ(a1, ... , an) = (f1(a1, ..., an), ..., fm(a1, ..., an)).

Structure sheaf[edit]

Equipped with the structure sheaf described below, an affine variety is a locally ringed space.

Given an affine variety X with coordinate ring A, we define the sheaf of k-algebras by letting be the ring of regular functions on U.

We let D(f) = { x | f(x) ≠ 0 } for each f in A. They form a base for the topology of X and so is determined by its values on the open sets D(f). (See also: sheaf of modules#Sheaf associated to a module.)

The key fact, which relies on Hilbert nullstellensatz in the essential way, is the following:

Claim —  for any f in A.

Proof:[2] The inclusion ⊃ is clear. For the opposite, let g be in the left-hand side and , which is an ideal. If x is in D(f), then, since g is regular near x, there is some open affine neighborhood D(h) of x such that ; that is, hm g is in A and thus x is not in V(J). In other words, and thus the Hilbert nullstellensatz implies f is in the radical of J; i.e., .

The claim, first of all, implies that X is a "locally ringed" space since

where . Secondly, the claim implies that is a sheaf; indeed, it says if a function is regular (pointwise) on D(f), then it must be in the coordinate ring of D(f); that is, "regular-ness" can be patched together.

Hence, is a locally ringed space.

Serre's theorem on affineness[edit]

A theorem of Serre gives a cohomological characterization of an affine variety; it says an algebraic variety is affine if and only if for any and any quasi-coherent sheaf F on X. (cf. Cartan's theorem B.) This makes the cohomological study of an affine variety non-existent, in a sharp contrast to the projective case in which cohomology groups of line bundles are of central interest.


  • The complement of a hypersurface of an affine variety X; i.e., X - { f = 0 } for some regular function f on X is affine; its coordinate ring is the localization . In particular, A1 - 0 (the affine line with the origin removed) is affine.
  • Every closed subvariety of the affine space of codimension one is defined by a prime ideal of the polynomial ring of height one, which is principal; thus, they are hypersurfaces (i.e., defined by a single polynomial.)
  • C2 - 0 is an open subset of the affine variety that is not affine; cf. Hartogs' extension theorem
  • The normalization of an irreducible affine variety is affine; the coordinate ring of the normalization is the integral closure of the coordinate ring of the variety. (It turns out the normalization of a projective variety is a projective variety.)

Rational points[edit]

For an affine variety over an algebraically closed field K, and a subfield k of K, a k-rational point of V is a point That is, a point of V whose coordinates are elements of k. The collection of k-rational points of an affine variety V is often denoted V(k).

Tangent space[edit]

Tangent spaces may be defined just as in calculus. Let be the affine variety. Then the affine subvariety of defined by the linear equations

is called the tangent space at [3] (A more intrinsic definition is given by Zariski tangent space.) If the tangent space at x and the variety X have the same dimension, the point x is said to be smooth; otherwise, singular.

The important difference from calculus is that the inverse function theorem fails. To alleviate this problem, one has to consider the étale topology instead of the Zariski topology. (cf. Milne, Étale)[clarification needed]


  • If an author requires the base field of an affine variety to be algebraically closed (as this article does), then irreducible affine algebraic sets over non-algebraically closed fields are a generalization of affine varieties. This generalization notably includes affine varieties over the real numbers.
  • An affine variety plays a role of a local chart for algebraic varieties; that is to say, general algebraic varieties such as projective varieties are obtained by gluing affine varieties. Linear structures that are attached to varieties are also (trivially) affine varieties; e.g., tangent spaces, fibers of algebraic vector bundles.
  • An affine variety is a special case of an affine scheme, a locally-ringed space which is isomorphic to the spectrum of a commutative ring (up to an equivalence of categories). Each affine variety has an affine scheme associated to it: if V(I) is an affine variety in kn with coordinate ring R = k[x1, ..., xn] / I, then the scheme corresponding to V(I) is Spec(R), the set of prime ideals of R. The affine scheme has "classical points" which correspond with points of the variety (and hence maximal ideals of the coordinate ring of the variety), and also a point for each closed subvariety of the variety (these points correspond to prime, non-maximal ideals of the coordinate ring). This creates a more well-defined notion of the "generic point" of an affine variety, by assigning to each closed subvariety an open point which is dense in the subvariety. More generally, an affine scheme is an affine variety if it is reduced, irreducible, and of finite type over an algebraically closed field k.


  1. ^ Reid 1988
  2. ^ Mumford 1999, Ch. I, § 4. Proposition 1.
  3. ^ Milne & AG, Ch. 5

See also[edit]


The original article was written as a partial human translation of the corresponding French article.

  • Hartshorne, Robin (1977), Algebraic Geometry, Graduate Texts in Mathematics, 52, New York: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-0-387-90244-9, MR 0463157
  • Fulton, William (1969). Algebraic Curves (PDF). Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-510103.
  • Milne, Algebraic geometry
  • Milne, Lectures on Étale cohomology
  • Mumford, David (1999). The Red Book of Varieties and Schemes: Includes the Michigan Lectures (1974) on Curves and Their Jacobians (2nd ed.). Springer-Verlag. doi:10.1007/b62130. ISBN 354063293X.
  • Reid, Miles (1988). Undergraduate Algebraic Geometry. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 35662 8.