Newman's lemma

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In mathematics, in the theory of rewriting systems, Newman's lemma, also commonly called the diamond lemma, states that a terminating (or strongly normalizing) abstract rewriting system (ARS), that is, one in which there are no infinite reduction sequences, is confluent if it is locally confluent. In fact a terminating ARS is confluent precisely when it is locally confluent.[1]

Equivalently, for every binary relation with no decreasing infinite chains and satisfying a weak version of the diamond property, there is a unique minimal element in every connected component of the relation considered as a graph.

Today, this is seen as a purely combinatorial result based on well-foundedness due to a proof of Gérard Huet in 1980.[2] Newman's original proof was considerably more complicated.[3]

Diamond lemma[edit]

Proof idea (straight and wavy lines denoting → and , respectively):
Given t1 tt2, perform an induction on the derivation length. Obtain t from local confluence, and t from the induction hypothesis; similar for t.

In general, Newman's lemma can be seen as a combinatorial result about binary relations → on a set A (written backwards, so that ab means that b is below a) with the following two properties:

  • → is a well-founded relation: every non-empty subset X of A has a minimal element (an element a of X such that ab for no b in X). Equivalently, there is no infinite chain a0a1a2a3 → .... In the terminology of rewriting systems, → is terminating.
  • Every covering is bounded below. That is, if an element a in A covers elements b and c in A in the sense that ab and ac, then there is an element d in A such that b d and c d, where denotes the reflexive transitive closure of →. In the terminology of rewriting systems, → is locally confluent.

The lemma states that if the above two conditions hold, then → is confluent: whenever a b and a c, there is an element d such that b d and c d. In view of the termination of →, this implies that every connected component of → as a graph contains a unique minimal element a, moreover b a for every element b of the component.[4]


  1. ^ Franz Baader, Tobias Nipkow, (1998) Term Rewriting and All That, Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-77920-0
  2. ^ Gérard Huet, "Confluent Reductions: Abstract Properties and Applications to Term Rewriting Systems", Journal of the ACM (JACM), October 1980, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp. 797–821.
  3. ^ Harrison, p. 260, Paterson (1990), p. 354.
  4. ^ Paul M. Cohn, (1980) Universal Algebra, D. Reidel Publishing, ISBN 90-277-1254-9 (See pp. 25–26)



  • Term Rewriting Systems, Terese, Cambridge Tracts in Theoretical Computer Science, 2003. (book weblink)
  • Term Rewriting and All That, Franz Baader and Tobias Nipkow, Cambridge University Press, 1998 (book weblink)
  • John Harrison, Handbook of Practical Logic and Automated Reasoning, Cambridge University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-521-89957-4, chapter 4 "Equality".

External links[edit]