Square root of a 2 by 2 matrix
A square root of a 2×2 matrix M is another 2 by 2 matrix R such that M = R2, where R2 stands for the matrix product of R with itself. In general there can be no, two, four or even an infinitude of square root matrices. In many cases such a matrix R can be obtained by an explicit formula.
Square roots of a matrix of any dimension come in pairs: If R is a square root of M, then –R is also a square root of M, since (–R)(–R) = (–1)(–1)(RR) = R2 = M.
where A, B, C, and D may be real or complex numbers. Furthermore, let τ = A + D be the trace of M, and δ = AD – BC be its determinant. Let s be such that s2 = δ, and t be such that t2 = τ + 2s. That is,
Then, if t ≠ 0, a square root of M is
Indeed, the square of R is
Note that R may have complex entries even if M is a real matrix; this will be the case, in particular, if the determinant δ is negative.
When a matrix can be expressed as real multiple of the exponent of a matrix, then the square root is In this case the square root is real, and can be interpreted as the square root of a type of complex number.
Special cases of the formula
If M is an idempotent matrix, meaning that MM = M, then if it is not the identity matrix its determinant is zero, and its trace equals its rank which (excluding the zero matrix) is 1. Then the above formula has s = 0 and = 1, giving M and –M as two square roots of M.
In general, the formula above will provide four distinct square roots R, one for each choice of signs for s and t. If the determinant δ is zero but the trace τ is nonzero, the formula will give only two distinct solutions. It also gives only two distinct solutions if δ is nonzero and τ2 = 4δ (the case of duplicate eigenvalues), in which case one of the choices for s will make the denominator t be zero.
The formula above fails completely if δ and τ are both zero; that is, if D = −A and A2 = −BC, so that both the trace and the determinant of the matrix are zero. In this case, if M is the null matrix (with A = B = C = D = 0), then the null matrix is also a square root of M, as are
for any real or complex values of b and c. Otherwise M has no square root.
Simpler formulas for special matrices
If M is diagonal (that is, B = C = 0), one can use the simplified formula
where a = ±√A and d = ±√D; which, for the various sign choices, gives four, two, or one distinct matrices, if none of, only one of, or both A and D are zero, respectively.
where (r, s, t) is any Pythagorean triple—that is, any set of positive integers such that  In addition, any non-integer, irrational, or complex values of r, s, t satisfying give square root matrices. The identity matrix also has infinitely many non-symmetric square roots.
Matrix with one off-diagonal zero
If B is zero but A and D are not both zero, one can use
This formula will provide two solutions if A = D or A = 0 or D = 0, and four otherwise. A similar formula can be used when C is zero but A and D are not both zero.
- Levinger, Bernard W.. 1980. “The Square Root of a 2 × 2 Matrix”. Mathematics Magazine 53 (4). Mathematical Association of America: 222–24. doi:10.2307/2689616.
- P. C. Somayya (1997), Root of a 2x2 Matrix, The Mathematics Education, Vol.. XXXI, no. 1. Siwan, Bihar State. INDIA
- Anthony A. Harkin & Joseph B. Harkin (2004) Geometry of Generalized Complex Numbers, Mathematics Magazine 77(2):118–29
- Mitchell, Douglas W. "Using Pythagorean triples to generate square roots of I2". The Mathematical Gazette 87, November 2003, 499-500.