Zero divisor


In abstract algebra, an element a of a ring R is called a left zero divisor if there exists a nonzero x in R such that ax = 0,[1] or equivalently if the map from R to R that sends x to ax is not injective.[a] Similarly, an element a of a ring is called a right zero divisor if there exists a nonzero y in R such that ya = 0. This is a partial case of divisibility in rings. An element that is a left or a right zero divisor is simply called a zero divisor.[2] An element a that is both a left and a right zero divisor is called a two-sided zero divisor (the nonzero x such that ax = 0 may be different from the nonzero y such that ya = 0). If the ring is commutative, then the left and right zero divisors are the same.

An element of a ring that is not a left zero divisor is called left regular or left cancellable. Similarly, an element of a ring that is not a right zero divisor is called right regular or right cancellable. An element of a ring that is left and right cancellable, and is hence not a zero divisor, is called regular or cancellable,[3] or a non-zero-divisor. A zero divisor that is nonzero is called a nonzero zero divisor or a nontrivial zero divisor. A nonzero ring with no nontrivial zero divisors is called a domain.


  • In the ring  , the residue class   is a zero divisor since  .
  • The only zero divisor of the ring   of integers is  .
  • A nilpotent element of a nonzero ring is always a two-sided zero divisor.
  • An idempotent element   of a ring is always a two-sided zero divisor, since  .
  • The ring of   matrices over a field has nonzero zero divisors if  . Examples of zero divisors in the ring of   matrices (over any nonzero ring) are shown here:
  • A direct product of two or more nonzero rings always has nonzero zero divisors. For example, in   with each   nonzero,  , so   is a zero divisor.
  • Let   be a field and   be a group. Suppose that   has an element   of finite order  . Then in the group ring   one has  , with neither factor being zero, so   is a nonzero zero divisor in  .

One-sided zero-divisorEdit

  • Consider the ring of (formal) matrices   with   and  . Then   and  . If  , then   is a left zero divisor if and only if   is even, since  , and it is a right zero divisor if and only if   is even for similar reasons. If either of   is  , then it is a two-sided zero-divisor.
  • Here is another example of a ring with an element that is a zero divisor on one side only. Let   be the set of all sequences of integers  . Take for the ring all additive maps from   to  , with pointwise addition and composition as the ring operations. (That is, our ring is  , the endomorphism ring of the additive group  .) Three examples of elements of this ring are the right shift  , the left shift  , and the projection map onto the first factor  . All three of these additive maps are not zero, and the composites   and   are both zero, so   is a left zero divisor and   is a right zero divisor in the ring of additive maps from   to  . However,   is not a right zero divisor and   is not a left zero divisor: the composite   is the identity.   is a two-sided zero-divisor since  , while   is not in any direction.



  • In the ring of n-by-n matrices over a field, the left and right zero divisors coincide; they are precisely the singular matrices. In the ring of n-by-n matrices over an integral domain, the zero divisors are precisely the matrices with determinant zero.
  • Left or right zero divisors can never be units, because if a is invertible and ax = 0 for some nonzero x, then 0 = a−10 = a−1ax = x, a contradiction.
  • An element is cancellable on the side on which it is regular. That is, if a is a left regular, ax = ay implies that x = y, and similarly for right regular.

Zero as a zero divisorEdit

There is no need for a separate convention for the case a = 0, because the definition applies also in this case:

  • If R is a ring other than the zero ring, then 0 is a (two-sided) zero divisor, because any nonzero element x satisfies 0x = 0 = x0.
  • If R is the zero ring, in which 0 = 1, then 0 is not a zero divisor, because there is no nonzero element that when multiplied by 0 yields 0.

Some references include or exclude 0 as a zero divisor in all rings by convention, but they then suffer from having to introduce exceptions in statements such as the following:

  • In a commutative ring R, the set of non-zero-divisors is a multiplicative set in R. (This, in turn, is important for the definition of the total quotient ring.) The same is true of the set of non-left-zero-divisors and the set of non-right-zero-divisors in an arbitrary ring, commutative or not.
  • In a commutative noetherian ring R, the set of zero divisors is the union of the associated prime ideals of R.

Zero divisor on a moduleEdit

Let R be a commutative ring, let M be an R-module, and let a be an element of R. One says that a is M-regular if the "multiplication by a" map   is injective, and that a is a zero divisor on M otherwise.[4] The set of M-regular elements is a multiplicative set in R.[4]

Specializing the definitions of "M-regular" and "zero divisor on M" to the case M = R recovers the definitions of "regular" and "zero divisor" given earlier in this article.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Since the map is not injective, we have ax = ay, in which x differs from y, and thus a(xy) = 0.


  1. ^ N. Bourbaki (1989), Algebra I, Chapters 1–3, Springer-Verlag, p. 98
  2. ^ Charles Lanski (2005), Concepts in Abstract Algebra, American Mathematical Soc., p. 342
  3. ^ Nicolas Bourbaki (1998). Algebra I. Springer Science+Business Media. p. 15.
  4. ^ a b Hideyuki Matsumura (1980), Commutative algebra, 2nd edition, The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., p. 12

Further readingEdit