Zariski tangent space

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In algebraic geometry, the Zariski tangent space is a construction that defines a tangent space at a point P on an algebraic variety V (and more generally). It does not use differential calculus, being based directly on abstract algebra, and in the most concrete cases just the theory of a system of linear equations.


For example, suppose given a plane curve C defined by a polynomial equation

F(X,Y) = 0

and take P to be the origin (0,0). Erasing terms of higher order than 1 would produce a 'linearised' equation reading

L(X,Y) = 0

in which all terms XaYb have been discarded if a + b > 1.

We have two cases: L may be 0, or it may be the equation of a line. In the first case the (Zariski) tangent space to C at (0,0) is the whole plane, considered as a two-dimensional affine space. In the second case, the tangent space is that line, considered as affine space. (The question of the origin comes up, when we take P as a general point on C; it is better to say 'affine space' and then note that P is a natural origin, rather than insist directly that it is a vector space.)

It is easy to see that over the real field we can obtain L in terms of the first partial derivatives of F. When those both are 0 at P, we have a singular point (double point, cusp or something more complicated). The general definition is that singular points of C are the cases when the tangent space has dimension 2.


The cotangent space of a local ring R, with maximal ideal \mathfrak{m} is defined to be


where \mathfrak{m}2 is given by the product of ideals. It is a vector space over the residue field k := R/\mathfrak{m}. Its dual (as a k-vector space) is called tangent space of R.[1]

This definition is a generalization of the above example to higher dimensions: suppose given an affine algebraic variety V and a point v of V. Morally, modding out \mathfrak{m}2 corresponds to dropping the non-linear terms from the equations defining V inside some affine space, therefore giving a system of linear equations that define the tangent space.

The tangent space T_P(X) and cotangent space T_P^*(X) to a scheme X at a point P is the (co)tangent space of \mathcal{O}_{X,P}. Due to the functoriality of Spec, the natural quotient map f:R\rightarrow R/I induces a homomorphism g:\mathcal{O}_{X,f^{-1}(P)}\rightarrow \mathcal{O}_{Y,P} for X=Spec(R), P a point in Y=Spec(R/I). This is used to embed T_P(Y) in T_{f^{-1}P}(X).[2] Since morphisms of fields are injective, the surjection of the residue fields induced by g is an isomorphism. Then a morphism k of the cotangent spaces is induced by g, given by

\cong (\mathfrak{m}_{f^{-1}P}/I)/((\mathfrak{m}_{f^{-1}P}^2+I)/I)
\cong \mathfrak{m}_{f^{-1}P}/(\mathfrak{m}_{f^{-1}P}^2+I)
\cong (\mathfrak{m}_{f^{-1}P}/\mathfrak{m}_{f^{-1}P}^2)/\mathrm{Ker}(k).

Since this is a surjection, the transpose k^*:T_P(Y) \rarr T_{f^{-1}P}(X) is an injection.

(One often defines the tangent and cotangent spaces for a manifold in the analogous manner.)

Analytic functions[edit]

If V is a subvariety of an n-dimensional vector space, defined by an ideal I, then R = Fn/I, where Fn is the ring of smooth/analytic/holomorphic functions on this vector space. The Zariski tangent space at x is

mn / ( I+mn2 ),

where mn is the maximal ideal consisting of those functions in Fn vanishing at x.

In the planar example above, I = <F>, and I+m2 = <L>+m2.


If R is a Noetherian local ring, the dimension of the tangent space is at least the dimension of R:

dim m/m2 ≧ dim R

R is called regular if equality holds. In a more geometric parlance, when R is the local ring of a variety V in v, one also says that v is a regular point. Otherwise it is called a singular point.

The tangent space has an interpretation in terms of homomorphisms to the dual numbers for K,


in the parlance of schemes, morphisms Spec K[t]/t2 to a scheme X over K correspond to a choice of a rational point x ∈ X(k) and an element of the tangent space at x.[3] Therefore, one also talks about tangent vectors. See also: tangent space to a functor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eisenbud 1998, I.2.2, pg. 26
  2. ^ Smoothness and the Zariski Tangent Space, James McKernan, 18.726 Spring 2011 Lecture 5
  3. ^ Hartshorne 1977, Exercise II 2.8


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