Orthogonal complement

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In the mathematical fields of linear algebra and functional analysis, the orthogonal complement of a subspace W of a vector space V equipped with a bilinear form B is the set W of all vectors in V that are orthogonal to every vector in W. Informally, it is called the perp, short for perpendicular complement. It is a subspace of V.


Let be the vector space equipped with the usual dot product (thus making it an inner product space), and let

then its orthogonal complement
can also be defined as

The fact that every column vector in is orthogonal to every column vector in can be checked by direct computation. The fact that the spans of these vectors are orthogonal then follows by bilinearity of the dot product. Finally, the fact that these spaces are orthogonal complements follows from the dimension relationships given below.

General bilinear forms[edit]

Let be a vector space over a field equipped with a bilinear form We define to be left-orthogonal to , and to be right-orthogonal to when For a subset of define the left orthogonal complement to be

There is a corresponding definition of right orthogonal complement. For a reflexive bilinear form, where implies for all and in the left and right complements coincide. This will be the case if is a symmetric or an alternating form.

The definition extends to a bilinear form on a free module over a commutative ring, and to a sesquilinear form extended to include any free module over a commutative ring with conjugation.[1]


  • An orthogonal complement is a subspace of ;
  • If then ;
  • The radical of is a subspace of every orthogonal complement;
  • ;
  • If is non-degenerate and is finite-dimensional, then
  • If are subspaces of a finite-dimensional space and then

Inner product spaces[edit]

This section considers orthogonal complements in an inner product space [2] Two vectors and are called orthogonal if which happens if and only if for all scalars [3] If is any subset of an inner product space then its orthogonal complement in is the vector subspace

which is always a closed subset of [3][proof 1] that satisfies and if then also and If is a vector subspace of an inner product space then
If is a closed vector subspace of a Hilbert space then[3]
where is called the orthogonal decomposition of into and and it indicates that is a complemented subspace of with complement


The orthogonal complement is always closed in the metric topology. In finite-dimensional spaces, that is merely an instance of the fact that all subspaces of a vector space are closed. In infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces, some subspaces are not closed, but all orthogonal complements are closed. If is a vector subspace of an inner product space the orthogonal complement of the orthogonal complement of is the closure of that is,

Some other useful properties that always hold are the following. Let be a Hilbert space and let and be its linear subspaces. Then:

  • ;
  • if then ;
  • ;
  • ;
  • if is a closed linear subspace of then ;
  • if is a closed linear subspace of then the (inner) direct sum.

The orthogonal complement generalizes to the annihilator, and gives a Galois connection on subsets of the inner product space, with associated closure operator the topological closure of the span.

Finite dimensions[edit]

For a finite-dimensional inner product space of dimension the orthogonal complement of a -dimensional subspace is an -dimensional subspace, and the double orthogonal complement is the original subspace:

If is an matrix, where and refer to the row space, column space, and null space of (respectively), then[4]

Banach spaces[edit]

There is a natural analog of this notion in general Banach spaces. In this case one defines the orthogonal complement of W to be a subspace of the dual of V defined similarly as the annihilator

It is always a closed subspace of V. There is also an analog of the double complement property. W⊥⊥ is now a subspace of V∗∗ (which is not identical to V). However, the reflexive spaces have a natural isomorphism i between V and V∗∗. In this case we have

This is a rather straightforward consequence of the Hahn–Banach theorem.


In special relativity the orthogonal complement is used to determine the simultaneous hyperplane at a point of a world line. The bilinear form η used in Minkowski space determines a pseudo-Euclidean space of events. The origin and all events on the light cone are self-orthogonal. When a time event and a space event evaluate to zero under the bilinear form, then they are hyperbolic-orthogonal. This terminology stems from the use of two conjugate hyperbolas in the pseudo-Euclidean plane: conjugate diameters of these hyperbolas are hyperbolic-orthogonal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ If then which is closed in so assume Let where is the underlying scalar field of and define by which is continuous because this is true of each of its coordinates Then is closed in because is closed in and is continuous. If is linear in its first (respectively, its second) coordinate then is a linear map (resp. an antilinear map); either way, its kernel is a vector subspace of Q.E.D.


  1. ^ Adkins & Weintraub (1992) p.359
  2. ^ Adkins&Weintraub (1992) p.272
  3. ^ a b c Rudin 1991, pp. 306–312.
  4. ^ "Orthogonal Complement"


  • Adkins, William A.; Weintraub, Steven H. (1992), Algebra: An Approach via Module Theory, Graduate Texts in Mathematics, vol. 136, Springer-Verlag, ISBN 3-540-97839-9, Zbl 0768.00003
  • Halmos, Paul R. (1974), Finite-dimensional vector spaces, Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics, Berlin, New York: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-0-387-90093-3, Zbl 0288.15002
  • Milnor, J.; Husemoller, D. (1973), Symmetric Bilinear Forms, Ergebnisse der Mathematik und ihrer Grenzgebiete, vol. 73, Springer-Verlag, ISBN 3-540-06009-X, Zbl 0292.10016
  • Rudin, Walter (1991). Functional Analysis. International Series in Pure and Applied Mathematics. Vol. 8 (Second ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Science/Engineering/Math. ISBN 978-0-07-054236-5. OCLC 21163277.

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