Conjugate element (field theory)

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In mathematics, in particular field theory, the conjugate elements of an algebraic element α, over a field extension L/K, are the roots of the minimal polynomial pK(x) of α over K. Conjugate elements are also called Galois conjugates, or simply conjugates. Normally α itself is included in the set of conjugates of α.


The cube roots of the number one are:

The latter two roots are conjugate elements in L/K = Q[√3, i]/Q[√3] with minimal polynomial


If K is given inside an algebraically closed field C, then the conjugates can be taken inside C. If no such C is specified, one can take the conjugates in some relatively small field L. The smallest possible choice for L is to take a splitting field over K of pK, containing α. If L is any normal extension of K containing α, then by definition it already contains such a splitting field.

Given then a normal extension L of K, with automorphism group Aut(L/K) = G, and containing α, any element g(α) for g in G will be a conjugate of α, since the automorphism g sends roots of p to roots of p. Conversely any conjugate β of α is of this form: in other words, G acts transitively on the conjugates. This follows as K(α) is K-isomorphic to K(β) by irreducibility of the minimal polynomial, and any isomorphism of fields F and F' that maps polynomial p to p' can be extended to an isomorphism of the splitting fields of p over F and p' over F', respectively.

In summary, the conjugate elements of α are found, in any normal extension L of K that contains K(α), as the set of elements g(α) for g in Aut(L/K). The number of repeats in that list of each element is the separable degree [L:K(α)]sep.

A theorem of Kronecker states that if α is a nonzero algebraic integer such that α and all of its conjugates in the complex numbers have absolute value at most 1, then α is a root of unity. There are quantitative forms of this, stating more precisely bounds (depending on degree) on the largest absolute value of a conjugate that imply that an algebraic integer is a root of unity.


  • David S. Dummit, Richard M. Foote, Abstract algebra, 3rd ed., Wiley, 2004.

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