In mathematics, informal logic and argument mapping, a lemma (pl.: lemmas or lemmata) is a generally minor, proven proposition which is used as a stepping stone to a larger result. For that reason, it is also known as a "helping theorem" or an "auxiliary theorem". In many cases, a lemma derives its importance from the theorem it aims to prove; however, a lemma can also turn out to be more important than originally thought.
There is no formal distinction between a lemma and a theorem, only one of intention (see Theorem terminology). However, a lemma can be considered a minor result whose sole purpose is to help prove a more substantial theorem – a step in the direction of proof.
Some powerful results in mathematics are known as lemmas, first named for their originally minor purpose. These include, among others:
While these results originally seemed too simple or too technical to warrant independent interest, they have eventually turned out to be central to the theories in which they occur.
This article incorporates material from Lemma on PlanetMath, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.