Nilpotent Lie algebra

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In mathematics, a Lie algebra is nilpotent if its lower central series eventually becomes zero.

It is a Lie algebra analog of a nilpotent group.


Let be a Lie algebra. Then is nilpotent if the lower central series terminates, i.e. if for some n ∈ ℕ.

Explicitly, this means that

so that adX1adX2 ⋅⋅⋅ adXn = 0.

Equivalent conditions[edit]

A very special consequence of (1) is that

Thus (adX)n = 0 for all . That is, adX is a nilpotent endomorphism in the usual sense of linear endomorphisms (rather than of Lie algebras). We call such an element x in ad-nilpotent.

Remarkably, if is finite dimensional, the apparently much weaker condition (2) is actually equivalent to (1), as stated by

Engel's theorem: A Lie algebra is nilpotent if and only if all elements of are ad-nilpotent,

which we will not prove here.

A somewhat easier equivalent condition for the nilpotency of  : is nilpotent if and only if is nilpotent (as a Lie algebra). To see this, first observe that (1) implies that is nilpotent, since the expansion of an (n − 1)-fold nested bracket will consist of terms of the form in (1). Conversely, one may write[1]

and since ad is a Lie algebra homomorphism,

If is nilpotent, the last expression is zero for large enough n, and accordingly the first. But this implies (1), so is nilpotent.



  • Every nilpotent Lie algebra is solvable. This is useful in proving the solvability of a Lie algebra since, in practice, it is usually easier to prove nilpotency (when it holds!) rather than solvability. However, in general, the converse of this property is false. For example, the subalgebra of (k ≥ 2) consisting of upper triangular matrices, , is solvable but not nilpotent.
  • If a Lie algebra is nilpotent, then all subalgebras and homomorphic images are nilpotent.
  • If the quotient algebra , where is the center of , is nilpotent, then so is .
  • Engel's theorem: A Lie algebra is nilpotent if and only if all elements of are ad-nilpotent.
  • The Killing form of a nilpotent Lie algebra is 0.
  • A nilpotent Lie algebra has an outer automorphism, that is, an automorphism that is not in the image of Ad.
  • The derived subalgebra of a finite dimensional solvable Lie algebra over a field of characteristic 0 is nilpotent.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Knapp 2002 Proposition 1.32.


  • Fulton, W.; Harris, J. (1991). Representation theory. A first course. Graduate Texts in Mathematics. 129. New York: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-0-387-97527-6. MR 1153249.
  • Humphreys, James E. (1972). Introduction to Lie Algebras and Representation Theory. Graduate Texts in Mathematics. 9. New York: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 0-387-90053-5.
  • Knapp, A. W. (2002). Lie groups beyond an introduction. Progress in Mathematics. 120 (2nd ed.). Boston·Basel·Berlin: Birkhäuser. ISBN 0-8176-4259-5.