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# 5.2: Linear Independence

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We are now going to define the notion of linear independence of a list of vectors. This concept will be extremely important in the sections that follow, and especially when we introduce bases and the dimension of a vector space.

Definition 5.2.1: linearly independent Vectors

A list of vectors $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is called linearly independent if the only solution for $$a_1,\ldots,a_m\in\mathbb{F}$$ to the equation

$a_1 v_1 + \cdots + a_m v_m = 0$

is $$a_1=\cdots = a_m=0$$. In other words, the zero vector can only trivially be written as a linear combination of $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$.

Definition 5.2.2: Linearly dependent Vectors

A list of vectors $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is called linearly dependent if it is not linearly independent. That is, $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is linear dependent if there exist $$a_1,\ldots,a_m\in \mathbb{F}$$, not all zero, such that

$a_1 v_1 + \cdots + a_m v_m = 0.$

Example $$\PageIndex{1}$$:

The vectors $$(e_1,\ldots,e_m)$$ of Example 5.1.4 are linearly independent. To see this, note that the only solution to the vector equation

$0 = a_1 e_1 + \cdots + a_m e_m = (a_1,\ldots,a_m)$

is $$a_1=\cdots=a_m=0$$. Alternatively, we can reinterpret this vector equation as the homogeneous linear system

$\left. \begin{array}{cccccc} a_{1} & & ~ & ~ & = & 0 \\ ~ & a_{2} & ~ & ~ & = & 0 \\ ~ & ~ & \ddots & ~ & \vdots & \vdots \\ ~ & ~ & ~ & a_{m} & = & 0 \end{array} \right\},$

which clearly has only the trivial solution. (See Section A.3.2 for the appropriate definitions.)

Example $$\PageIndex{2}$$:

The vectors $$v_1=(1,1,1),v_2=(0,1,-1)$$, and $$v_3=(1,2,0)$$ are linearly dependent. To see this, we need to consider the vector equation

$\begin{eqnarray} a_1 v_1 + a_2 v_2 + a_3 v_3 & = & a_1 (1,1,1) + a_2 (0,1,-1) + a_3 (1,2,0)\\ & = & (a_1+a_3,a_1+a_2+2a_3,a_1-a_2) = (0,0,0). \end{eqnarray}$

Solving for $$a_1,a_2$$, and $$a_3$$, we see, for example, that $$(a_1,a_2,a_3) = (1,1,-1)$$ is a nonzero solution. Alternatively, we can reinterpret this vector equation as the homogeneous linear system

$\left. \begin{array}{ccccccc} a_{1} & ~ & ~ & + & a_{3} & = & 0 \\ a_{1} & + & a_{2} & + & 2a_{3} & = & 0 \\ a_{1} & - & a_{2} & ~ & ~ & = & 0 \end{array} \right\}.$

Using the techniques of Section A.3, we see that solving this linear system is equivalent to solving the following linear system:

$\left. \begin{array}{ccccccc} a_{1} & ~ & ~ & + & a_{3} & = & 0 \\ ~ & ~ & a_{2} & + & a_{3} & = & 0 \end{array} \right\}.$

Note that this new linear system clearly has infinitely many solutions. In particular, the set of all solutions is given by

$N = \{ (a_1,a_2,a_3) \in \mathbb{F}^{n} \ | \ a_{1} = a_{2} = -a_{3} \} = \Span((1,1,-1)).$

Example $$\PageIndex{3}$$:

The vectors $$(1,z,\ldots,z^m)$$ in the vector space $$\mathbb{F}_m[z]$$ are linearly independent. Requiring that

$a_0 1 + a_1 z +\cdots+ a_m z^m = 0$

means that the polynomial on the left should be zero for all $$z\in \mathbb{F}$$. This is only possible for $$a_0=a_1=\cdots=a_m=0$$.

An important consequence of the notion of linear independence is the fact that any vector in the span of a given list of linearly independent vectors can be uniquely written as a linear combination.

Lemma 5.2.6

The list of vectors $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is linearly independent if and only if every $$v\in\Span(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ can be uniquely written as a linear combination of $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$.

Proof

$$( "\Longrightarrow" )$$ Assume that $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is a linearly independent list of vectors.

Suppose there are two ways of writing $$v\in\Span(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ as a linear combination of the $$v_i$$:

$v=a_1v_1 + \cdots a_m v_m,\\ v=a^{'}_1v_1 + \cdots a^{'}_m v_m.$

Subtracting the two equations yields $$0=(a_1-a_1')v_1 + \cdots + (a_m-a_m')v_m$$.

Since $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is linearly independent, the only solution to this equation is $$a_1-a_1'=0,\ldots,a_m-a_m'=0$$, or equivalently $$a_1=a_1',\ldots,a_m=a_m'$$.

$$( "\Longleftarrow" )$$ Now assume that, for every $$v \in \Span(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$, there are unique $$a_1,\ldots,a_m \in \mathbb{F}$$ such that

$v = a_1 v_1 + \cdots + a_m v_m.$

This implies, in particular, that the only way the zero vector $$v=0$$ can be written as a linear combination of $$v_1,\ldots,v_m$$ is with $$a_1=\cdots=a_m=0$$. This shows that $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ are linearly independent.

$$\square$$

It is clear that if $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is a list of linearly independent vectors, then the list $$(v_1,\ldots,v_{m-1})$$ is also linearly independent.

For the next lemma, we introduce the following notation: If we want to drop a vector $$v_j$$ from a given list $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ of vectors, then we indicate the dropped vector by a hat. I.e., we write

$(v_1,\ldots,\hat{v}_j,\ldots,v_m) = (v_1,\ldots,v_{j - 1}, v_{j + 1},\ldots,v_m).$

Lemma 5.2.7: Linear Dependence Lemma

If $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is linearly dependent and $$v_1\neq 0$$, then there exists an index $$j\in \{2,\ldots,m\}$$ such that the following two conditions hold.

1. $$v_j\in \Span(v_1,\ldots, v_{j-1})$$.
2. If $$v_j$$ is removed from $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$, then $$\Span(v_1,\ldots,\hat{v}_j,\ldots,v_m) = \Span(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$.

Proof

Since $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is linearly dependent there exist $$a_1,\ldots,a_m\in \mathbb{F}$$ not all zero such that $$a_1v_1+\cdots+ a_mv_m =0$$. Since by assumption $$v_1\neq 0$$, not all of $$a_2,\ldots,a_m$$ can be zero. Let $$j\in\{2,\ldots,m\}$$ be largest such that $$a_j\neq 0$$. Then we have

$v_j = -\frac{a_1}{a_j} v_1-\cdots - \frac{a_{j-1}}{a_j} v_{j-1}, \label{5.2.1}$

which implies Part~1.

Let $$v\in\Span(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$. This means, by definition, that there exist scalars $$b_1,\ldots,b_m\in\mathbb{F}$$ such that

$v = b_1 v_1 + \cdots + b_m v_m.$

The vector $$v_j$$ that we determined in Part 1 can be replaced by Equation \ref{5.2.1}) so that $$v$$ is written as a linear combination of $$(v_1,\ldots,\hat{v}_j,\ldots,v_m)$$. Hence, $$\Span(v_1,\ldots,\hat{v}_j,\ldots,v_m) = \Span(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$.

$$\square$$

Example $$\PageIndex{4}$$:

The list $$(v_1,v_2,v_3)=((1,1),(1,2),(1,0))$$ of vectors spans $$\mathbb{R}^2$$.

To see this, take any vector $$v=(x,y)\in \mathbb{R}^2$$. We want to show that $$v$$ can be written as a linear combination of $$(1,1),(1,2),(1,0)$$, i.e., that there exist scalars $$a_{1}, a_{2}, a_{3} \in \mathbb{F}$$ such that

$v = a_1 (1,1) + a_2 (1,2) + a_3 (1,0),$

or equivalently that

$(x,y) = (a_1+a_2+a_3,a_1+2a_2).$

Clearly $$a_1=y$$, $$a_2=0$$, and $$a_3=x-y$$ form a solution for any choice of $$x, y\in \mathbb{R}$$, and so $$\mathbb{R}^2=\Span((1,1),(1,2),(1,0))$$. However, note that

$2 (1,1) - (1,2) - (1,0) = (0,0), \label{5.2.2}$

which shows that the list $$((1,1),(1,2),(1,0))$$ is linearly dependent.

## The Linear Dependence

Lemma 5.2.7 thus states that one of the vectors can be dropped from $$((1,1),(1,2),(1,0))$$ and that the resulting list of vectors will still span $$\mathbb{R}^2$$. Indeed, by Equation \ref{5.2.2},

$v_3 = (1,0) = 2(1,1)-(1,2) = 2v_1-v_2,$

and so $$\Span((1,1),(1,2),(1,0))=\Span((1,1),(1,2)).$$

The next result shows that linearly independent lists of vectors that span a finite-dimensional vector space are the smallest possible spanning sets.

Theorem 5.2.9

Let $$V$$ be a finite-dimensional vector space. Suppose that $$(v_1,\ldots,v_m)$$ is a linearly independent list of vectors that spans $$V$$, and let $$(w_1,\ldots,w_n)$$ be any list that spans $$V$$. Then $$m\le n$$.

Proof

The proof uses the following iterative procedure: start with an arbitrary list of vectors $$\mathcal{S}_0=(w_1,\ldots,w_n)$$ such that $$V = \Span(\mathcal{S}_0)$$. At the $$k^{\text{th}}$$ step of the procedure, we construct a new list $$\mathcal{S}_k$$ by replacing some vector $$w_{j_k}$$ by the vector $$v_k$$ such that $$\mathcal{S}_k$$ still spans $$V$$. Repeating this for all $$v_k$$ then produces a new list $$\mathcal{S}_m$$ of length $$n$$ that contains each of $$v_1,\ldots,v_m$$, which then proves that $$m\le n$$. Let us now discuss each step in this procedure in detail.

Step 1. Since $$(w_1,\ldots,w_n)$$ spans $$V$$, adding a new vector to the list makes the new list linearly dependent. Hence $$(v_1,w_1,\ldots,w_n)$$ is linearly dependent. By Lemma 5.2.7, there exists an index $$j_1$$ such that

$w_{j_1} \in \Span(v_1,w_1,\ldots, w_{j_1-1}).$

Hence $$\mathcal{S}_1=(v_1,w_1,\ldots,\hat{w}_{j_1},\ldots,w_n)$$ spans $$V$$. In this step, we added the vector $$v_1$$ and removed the vector $$w_{j_1}$$ from $$\mathcal{S}_0$$.

Step $$k$$. Suppose that we already added $$v_1,\ldots,v_{k-1}$$ to our spanning list and removed the vectors $$w_{j_1},\ldots,w_{j_{k-1}}$$. It is impossible that we have reached the situation where all of the vectors $$w_1,\ldots, w_n$$ have been removed from the spanning list at this step if $$k\leq m$$ because then we would have $$V=\Span(v_1,\ldots, v_{k-1})$$ which would allow $$v_k$$ to be expressed as a linear combination of $$v_1,\ldots,v_{k-1}$$ (in contradiction with the assumption of linear independence of $$v_1,\ldots,v_n$$).

Now, call the list reached at this step $$\mathcal{S}_{k-1}$$, and note that $$V = \Span(\mathcal{S}_{k-1})$$. Add the vector $$v_k$$ to $$\mathcal{S}_{k-1}$$. By the same arguments as before, adjoining the extra vector $$v_k$$ to the spanning list $$\mathcal{S}_{k-1}$$ yields a list of linearly dependent vectors. Hence, by Lemma 5.2.7, there exists an index $$j_k$$ such that $$\mathcal{S}_{k-1}$$ with $$v_k$$ added and $$w_{j_k}$$ removed still spans $$V$$. The fact that $$(v_1,\ldots,v_k)$$ is linearly independent ensures that the vector removed is indeed among the $$w_j$$. Call the new list $$\mathcal{S}_k$$, and note that $$V = \Span(\mathcal{S}_{k})$$.

The final list $$\mathcal{S}_m$$ is $$\mathcal{S}_0$$ but with each $$v_1,\ldots,v_m$$ added and each $$w_{j_1},\ldots, w_{j_m}$$ removed. Moreover, note that $$\mathcal{S}_{m}$$ has length $$n$$ and still spans $$V$$. It follows that $$m\le n$$.

$$\square$$

### Contributors

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