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2.4.

THE COMPLETENESS PROPERTY OF R 47


2.4 The Completeness Property of R
In this section, we start studying what makes the set of real numbers so special,
why the set of real numbers is fundamentally dierent from the set of rational
numbers.
The completeness property is also known as the least upper bound property.
We will use both terms in this section.
In this section we will use interval notation though we havent dened in-
tervals yet. A precise denition of intervals will come at the end of the section,
after the least upper bound property. Until then, the reader can use the in-
tuitive denition of an interval given in previous mathematics classes such as
calculus.
2.4.1 Bounded Sets
Maximum and Minimum of a Set
Denition 119 (Extrema) Let o be a subset of R
1. An element r
0
of o is said to be a maximum of o if r
0
_ r for every
other r in o. In this case, we say that r
0
is the largest element of o
and we write r
0
= max o.
2. An element r
1
of o is said to be a minimum of o if r
1
_ r for every
other r in o. In this case, we say that r
1
is the smallest element of o
and we write r
1
= mino.
3. An extremum is either a maximum or a minimum.
Remark 120 An extremum for a set o is always an element of o.
Remark 121 To prove an element ' is a maximum for a set o, we have to
prove two things:
1. ' o.
2. No other element of o is larger than '.
Remark 122 It is similar for a minimum.
Example 123 The smallest element (or minimum) of [0, 1] is 0. Its largest
element (or maximum) is 1. More generally, if a and / are two real numbers
such that a _ / then min[a, /] = a and max [a, /] = /.
Example 124 The minimum of [0, 1) is 0. It does not have a maximum. To
be a maximum, a number c would have to be in [0, 1). Thus, we would have
c < 1. But then c <
c + 1
2
< 1, so
c + 1
2
is also an element of [0, 1) which is
larger than c. This contradicts the fact that c = max ([0, 1)).
48 CHAPTER 2. THE STRUCTURE OF R
Example 125 Following the examples above, it is easy to see that if a and /
are two real numbers such that a _ / then [a, /) does not have a maximum and
min[a, /) = a, (a, /] does not have a minimum and max (a, /] = /, (a, /) has
neither a minimum nor a maximum.
Example 126 The largest element of [0, 1] ' 3 is 3.
Example 127 Consider the set o =

Q : 0 and
2
< 2

. This set has


no maximum. To show this, we show that if j o, one can nd o such
that j < . Let j o. In particular, j 0 and j
2
< 2. Dene
= j +
2 j
2
j + 2
=
2j + 2
j + 2
First, it should be clear that Q and 0 (since j
2
< 2) . Also, it is clear
that j. We only need to establish that
2
< 2 so that o.

2
2 =
4j
2
+ 8j + 4
(j + 2)
2
2
=
4j
2
+ 8j + 4 2j
2
8j 8
(j + 2)
2
=
2j
2
4
(j + 2)
2
=
2

j
2
2

(j + 2)
2
< 0
Since j
2
< 2. Thus
2
< 2. Therefore, given any j o, we have found o
such that j < . Thus o has no largest element.
Upper and Lower Bounds, Bounded Sets
Denition 128 (Bounded) Let o be a subset of R.
1. o is said to be bounded above if there exists a number ' in R such that
r _ ' for every r in o. ' is called an upper bound for o.
2. o is said to be bounded below if there exists a number : in R such that
r _ : for every r in o. : is called a lower bound for o.
3. o is said to be bounded if it is bounded above and below.
4. o is said to be unbounded if it lacks either an upper bound or a lower
bound.
2.4. THE COMPLETENESS PROPERTY OF R 49
Remark 129 Not every subset of R has an upper bound. For example, (4, )
does not have an upper bound, it is unbounded. However, if a set o has an upper
bound ', then every number larger than ' is also an upper bound. That is,
if o has an upper bound, then it has innitely many. A similar result holds for
lower bounds. Consider (0, 1). 1 is an upper bound. In fact, any number ' _ 1
is an upper bound.
Example 130 3 and every number larger than 3 is an upper bound of [0, 3).
On the other hand, 2.99 is not an upper bound.
Example 131 3 is also an upper bound of [0, 3]. So, an upper bound of a set
can be in the set (more on this later).
Since a set usually has an innite number of upper bounds, a possible ques-
tion is: given a set o, what is the set of upper bounds of o. We explore this
question in the next two examples.
Example 132 What is the set of upper bounds of [0, 1]?
A number ' is an upper bound of [0, 1] if and only if ' _ 1 therefore, the set
of upper bounds of [0, 1] is [1, ).
Example 133 What is the set of upper bounds of [0, 1)?
We see that if ' _ 1, then ' is an upper bound of [0, 1). Could [0, 1) have
upper bounds smaller than 1? The answer is no. Obviously, to be an upper
bound of [0, 1), a number would have to be greater than 0. So, we only need to
see what happens between 0 and 1. But if c < 1 is an upper bound of [0, 1) then
c <
c + 1
2
< 1 which contradicts the fact that c is an upper bound. So, [0, 1)
cannot have an upper bound less than 1. It follows that the set of upper bounds
of [0, 1) is [1, ).
Remark 134 The reader should remember the argument we used above. It is
a result which was established in theorem 103.
Remark 135 [0, 1] and [0, 1) have the same set of upper bounds.
Remark 136 More generally, if a and / are two real numbers such that a _ /,
then [a, /], (a, /), (a, /] and [a, /) have the same set of upper bounds which is
[/, ) and the same set of lower bounds which is (, a].
Remark 137 An upper bound ' of a set o may or may not be in o.
Example 138 The set of lower bounds of 2 ' [3, 4] is (, 2].
Example 139 The empty set, ?, presents an interesting case. Every real num-
ber is both an upper bound and a lower bound of ?. To see this, it is better to
look at why a number may fail to be an upper bound. ' will fail to be an upper
bound of a set o if there exists an element of o larger than '. If r is any real
50 CHAPTER 2. THE STRUCTURE OF R
number, no member of ? can be larger than r. Thus r is an upper bound of ?.
Since this argument can be carried out for arbitrary r, it follows that any real
number r is an upper bound of ?. A similar argument can be used for lower
bounds.
Example 140 The set N is clearly bounded below by 1. Intuitively, we know
that it is not bounded above. Proving it is more dicult. We can see that it is
not bounded above by an integer. If : were an upper bound of N, then : + 1 is
also an integer larger than :. This contradicts the fact that : is an upper bound
for N. However, there could exist a real number which is an upper bound for N.
While this is not true, we cannot prove it at this stage.
Example 141 Consider the set o =

0,
1
2
,
2
3
,
3
4
, ...

=

1
1
:
: : N

. This
set is bounded below by any real number : _ 0. It is bounded above by any real
number ' _ 1.
Lemma 142 Suppose that o is a non-empty subset of R, c is a lower bound of
o and , is an upper bound of o. Then, we must have c _ ,.
Proof. Since o ,= ?, we can choose r o. Because c is a lower bound of o,
we have c _ r. Because , is an upper bound of o, we have r _ ,. Using the
transitivity property of _, we obtain c _ ,.
Supremum and Inmum of a Set
Denition 143 (Supremum and inmum) Let o be a subset of R
1. If o is bounded above, then an upper bound of o is said to be a supremum
denoted supo or a least upper bound denoted |n/ o if it is less than any
other upper bound of o. If this number exists, we will denote it by supo.
2. If o is bounded below, then a lower bound of o is said to be an inmum
denoted inf o or a greatest lower bound denoted q|/ o if it is greater
than any other lower bound of o. If this number exists, we will denote it
by inf o.
Remark 144 It should be noted that supo and inf o are not necessarily ele-
ments of o.
Remark 145 Obviously, if o ,= ? is not bounded above then o does not have
a supremum. Similarly, if o is not bounded below, it does not have an inmum.
What about the converse?
Another way of dening the supremum is as follows. A number n R is a
supremum of a subset o of R if it satises the two conditions
1. : _ n \: o
2. If is any number such that : _ \: o then n _
2.4. THE COMPLETENESS PROPERTY OF R 51
The rst condition says that n is an upper bound. The second says that n
is less than any other upper bound that is n is the least upper bound.
Remark 146 We see that to prove a real number , is an upper bound of a set
o, we must prove:
1. , is an upper bound of o.
2. Any other upper bound of o is larger than ,. This condition can be proven
directly, that is we assume that is another upper bound of o and show
we must have , _ . It can also be done by contradiction. We assume
that is another upper bound such that < , and derive a contradiction.
Example 147 Consider the set o = (0, 2). A number ' _ 2 is an upper
bound. So, the set of upper bounds is [2, ). The smallest element of this set
is 2. Therefore, the least upper bound of o is 2 which is not in o. We would
write sup(0, 2) = 2. You will also note that o does not have a largest element
or a maximum.
Example 148 Consider the set [0, 2]. A number ' _ 2 is an upper bound.
So, the set of upper bounds is [2, ). The smallest element of this set is 2.
Therefore, the least upper bound is 2 which is in o. We would write sup[0, 2] =
2. You will also note that o has a maximum, 2. In this example, the maximum
and the supremum are equal. This is in fact true for every set which has a
maximum as we will see later.
Example 149 More generally, if a and / are two real numbers such that a _ /,
then sup(a, /) = sup[a, /] = / and inf (a, /) = inf [a, /] = a. Also, the following
quantities do not exist: sup(a, ), sup[a, ), inf (, /) and inf (, /].
Example 150 N has a greatest lower bound, it is 1. So, inf N = 1. Since N
is not bounded above, it does not have any upper bound thus it does not have a
least upper bound.
Another way of characterizing the supremum of a set is given below. It
is a way we will use throughout this text. Make sure you understand it and
remember it.
Theorem 151 Let o be a non-empty subset of R. An upper bound '
0
of o
satises '
0
= supo, if and only if for each j < '
0
, there exists an r in o for
which
j < r _ '
0
Proof. We need to prove both directions.
1. Let us assume that '
0
= supo. We need to prove that for each j <
'
0
, there exists an r in o for which j < r _ '
0
. We do a proof by
contradiction. Let j < '
0
be given and assume that there is no element r
of o such that j < r. Then, for every r in o, r _ j. Thus, j is an upper
bound of o which is smaller than '
0
which contradicts the fact that '
0
is the supremum.
52 CHAPTER 2. THE STRUCTURE OF R
2. Let '
0
be an upper bound of o with the property that for each j < '
0
,
there exists an r in o for which j < r _ '
0
. We need to show that
'
0
= supo. Since '
0
is already an upper bound, it is enough to show it
is the smallest. If were an upper bound strictly smaller than '
0
, then by
assumption, there would exists an r in o for which < r _ '
0
. But then
would not be an upper bound of o, which contradicts our assumption.
Thus, there cannot be an upper bound of o smaller than '
0
. It follows
that '
0
= supo.
Remark 152 This theorem says that one can get as close as one wants to the
supremum of a set and still be in the set. This is obvious if the supremum is
in the set. The theorem says it is also true if the supremum is outside of the
set. Another way of understanding this is that the theorem implies that there is
nothing between a set and its supremum because nothing can t there. In other
words, if the supremum of a set is not in the set, then it is the closest it can be
to the set. Nothing else can t in between.
Remark 153 If we represent the set of real numbers by the real line and con-
sider that the subset o in the theorem is a portion of the real line, then the
theorem says that no element of o can be to the right of '
0
however, there is
at least one element of o to the right of every element to the left of '
0
.
Example 154 Consider the set o =

0,
1
2
,
2
3
,
3
4
, ...

=

1
1
:
: : N

. Clearly
inf = 0 (see the next proposition). Intuitively, we think that sup = 1 because
1 is an upper bound. If is any real number less than 1 ( < 1) then one can
nd a natural number :
0
such that < 1
1
:
0
_ 1. It would be a natural
number satisfying :
0

1
1
. Thus 1
1
:
0
o. By theorem 151 this means
that 1 = supo.
Example 155 Consider the set o =

Q : 0 and
2
< 2

. Prove that if
supo exists then it cannot be a rational number. We do a proof by contradiction.
Let c = supo and assume that c Q.. Then, we know that c
2
,= 2. It follows
that either c
2
< 2 or c
2
2. If c
2
2, then
_
2 < c. By theorem 151, there
exists : o such that
_
2 < : _ c. But then,we would have :
2
2 so that
: , o which is a contradiction. So this case cannot occur. The only possibility
left is that c
2
< 2. Since o has no largest element, there exists o such that
c < thus c is not an upper bound of o hence cannot be its supremum. Since
all the possible cases cannot happen, our assumption that c Q cannot be true.
We will see later that o has indeed a supremum, it is
_
2.
Proposition 156 Let o be a subset of R.
1. If o has a smallest element, then mino = inf o.
2.4. THE COMPLETENESS PROPERTY OF R 53
2. If o has a largest element, then max o = supo.
Proof. We prove part 1 and leave part 2 as an exercise.
Let : = mino. By denition, : _ : for any : o. Thus : is also a lower
bound of o. If is another lower bound of o, then _ : since : o. Thus
: is the greatest lower bound of o or : = inf o.
Proposition 157 If the supremum exists, it is unique. A similar result holds
for the inmum.
Proof. See exercises.
In the last example we did, we saw that the set o, which is a subset of Q,
could not have a supremum in Q. This brings the questions "when do we know
if a set has a supremum, and in which set is the supremum?". There is a similar
question for inmum. We answer these questions in the next subsection. We
will see that the answer is at the heart of the dierence between R and Q.
2.4.2 The Axiom of Completeness
We are now ready to state the axiom of completeness. This axiom is also known
as the supremum or least upper bound property. There are several forms of this
axiom; they are obviously equivalent. We state two versions of this axiom, one
for supremum, one for inmum.
Axiom 158 (Supremum Property) Every non-empty subset of R that is
bounded above has a supremum in R.
The second version is stated as a theorem because it can be proven using
the rst one.
Theorem 159 (Inmum property) Every non-empty subset of R that is bounded
below has an inmum in R.
Proof. We do a direct proof. We will prove the inmum exists by nding it. Let
o be a non-empty subset of R which is bounded below. Dene 1 to be the set of
lower bounds of o. Since o is bounded below, 1 ,= ?. Furthermore, 1 is bounded
above by elements of o. By the supremum property, 1 has a supremum. Call
it c that is c = sup1. We will show that c = inf o. To prove that c = inf o,
we rst prove that c is a lower bound of o. We then prove that no lower bound
greater than c can exist, making c the greatest lower bound of o.
First, we prove that c is a lower bound of o. For this, we need to show
that every element of o is larger than c. Let : o. Then : is an upper
bound of 1. Since c = sup1, that is c is the least upper bound of 1, it
follows that c _ :. We have proven that if : is an arbitrary element of o,
then we had : _ c. It follows that c is a lower bound of o.
54 CHAPTER 2. THE STRUCTURE OF R
Next, we show that c is the greatest of the lower bounds of o. This is
straightforward. If is another lower bound of o, then is an element of
1 and therefore _ c since c is the least upper bound of 1 hence an upper
bound of 1. Therefore c is the greatest lower bound (or the inmum) of
o.
Remark 160 In the rst part of the proof, where we proved that c is a lower
bound of o, it would have been wrong to say c is a lower bound because c = sup1
and 1 is the set of lower bounds of 1. It is wrong because the supremum or the
inmum of a set do not necessarily below to the set. Thus c is not necessarily
a lower bound of o. It turns out that it is. But we know this after the proof we
gave.
Remark 161 The axiom and the theorem say that R is complete. Well give a
full denition of completeness in the next section.
Remark 162 Recall that one dierence between supremum and largest element
of a set is that the latter is in the set while the former need not be. If we replace
the word supremum by maximum or largest element in axiom 158, the result no
longer holds. Consider (0, 5). This is clearly a non empty subset of R which is
bounded above. It does indeed have a supremum, but no maximum.
Denition 163 If o is a non-empty subset of R, we set:
1. supo = if o is not bounded above.
2. inf o = if o is not bounded below.
Remark 164 The case of ? is, once again, an interesting one. We have already
established that every real number was both an upper bound and a lower bound
of ?. Thus, from the denition above, it follows that
sup? =
inf ? =
We illustrate with an example how to work with suprema and inma.
Example 165 Let o be a non-empty bounded subset of R. If a 0, show that
sup(ao) = a supo where ao = a: : : o.
Let c = supo. We need to show that sup(ao) = ac. For this, we show that ac
is an upper bound of o and that it is the smallest of the upper bounds of o.
1. ac is an upper bound of o. We need to show that ac _ a: for any : o.
Let : o. Since c = supo, it follows that c is an upper bound of o.
Thus, we have
c _ :
Since a 0, it follows that
ac _ a:
thus ac is an upper bound of ao.
2.4. THE COMPLETENESS PROPERTY OF R 55
2. ac is the least upper bound. We show that if is any other upper bound
of ao then _ ac. Clearly if = the result is true. Suppose that is
nite. Then,
a: _
for any : o. Thus
: _

a
for any : o. This makes

a
an upper bound of o. Since c = supo, it
follows that
c _

a
and therefore
ac _
2.4.3 Intervals
We can now dene precisely what an interval is.
Denition 166 (interval) A subset o of R is an interval if whenever r, j are
in o with r < j then every real number t satisfying r < t < j is also in o.
The next theorem records the familiar possible forms of an interval.
Theorem 167 An interval has one of the following nine forms:
1. (a, /) = r R : a < r < /, a bounded, open interval.
2. [a, /) = r R : a _ r < /, a bounded, half-open interval.
3. (a, /] = r R : a < r _ /, a bounded, half-open interval.
4. [a, /] = r R : a < r < /, a bounded, closed interval.
5. (, /) = r R : r < /, an unbounded, open interval.
6. (, /] = r R : r _ /, an unbounded, closed interval.
7. (a, ) = r R : a < r, an unbounded, open interval.
8. [a, ) = r R : a _ r, an unbounded, closed interval.
9. (, ) = R, an unbounded, both open and closed interval.
Remark 168 If a < /, when we write [a, /] we mean an interval of real num-
bers. If we want an interval on rational numbers, we either use set notation
that is r Q : a _ r _ /. We can also use [a, /] Q. Similarly for integers
or natural numbers, we use [a, /] Z or [a, /] N.
56 CHAPTER 2. THE STRUCTURE OF R
2.4.4 Exercises
1. In lemma 142, prove that if we add the condition that o has more than
one element, then c < ,.
2. Show that if o is bounded above and below, then there exists a number
0 for which _ r _ if r o.
3. Show that
1
2
(a + / +[a /[) = max a, /
4. Suppose that is a non-empty bounded set of real numbers that has no
largest member and that a . Explain why the sets and a have
exactly the same upper bounds.
5. Give an example of a set that has a largest member a such that the sets
and a have exactly the same upper bounds.
6. Give an example of a set that has a largest member a such that the sets
and a do not have exactly the same upper bounds.
7. Answer each part below.
(a) Given that o is a non empty subset of a given interval [a, /], explain
why, for every member r of the set o, we have
[r[ _ [a[ +[/ a[ .
(b) Given that a set o of numbers is bounded and that
T = [r[ : r o ,
prove that the set T must also be bounded.
8. Is it possible for a set of numbers to have a supremum even though it has
no largest member?
9. Show that if a subset o has a maximum, then the maximum is also the
supremum. Similarly, show that if o has a minimum, then the minimum
is also the inmum.
10. Show that if the supremum of a subset o exists, then it is unique. Prove
the same result for the inmum.
11. Let o denote the set in brackets in each case below. Find supo and inf o.
(a)

r
2
3r < 4

.
(b) 3r + 5 < 4r 7.
12. Given that is a set of real numbers and that sup , explain why
sup = max .
2.4. THE COMPLETENESS PROPERTY OF R 57
13. Given that is a set of real numbers and that inf , explain why
inf = min.
14. Given that c is an upper bound of a set and that c , explain why
c = sup.
15. Explain why the empty set does not have a supremum.
16. Explain why the set [1, ) does not have a supremum.
17. Given that c = sup and that r < c, what conclusions can you draw
about the number r?
18. Given that c = inf and that r c, what conclusions can you draw
about the number r?
19. State and prove the inmum version of theorem 151.
20. If and 1 are sets of real numbers, then the sets + 1 and 1 are
dened by
+ 1 = a + / : a and / 1
1 = a / : a and / 1
= a : a
and
.1 = a/ : a and / 1
(a) Find + 1 and 1 in each case below.
i. = [0, 1] and 1 = [1, 0].
ii. = [0, 1] and 1 = 1, 2, 3.
iii. = (0, 1) and 1 = 1, 2, 3.
(b) Prove that if two sets and 1 are bounded, then so are + 1 and
1.
(c) Prove that sup(1) = inf (1) and inf (1) = sup(1).
(d) Prove that if and 1 are non-empty and bounded above then
sup( + 1) = sup + sup1 and sup(1) = supinf 1.
(e) Show by example that in general sup(.1) ,= (sup) (sup1).
21. Given that two sets and 1 are bounded above and below. Answer the
following questions:
(a) Explain why their union ' 1 is bounded above and below.
(b) Prove that sup(' 1) = max sup, sup1.
(c) Prove that inf (' 1) = mininf , inf 1.
(d) Prove that sup( 1) _ minsup, sup1.
58 CHAPTER 2. THE STRUCTURE OF R
22. Suppose that is a non-empty bounded set of real numbers that has no
largest member and that a . Prove that sup = sup( a).
23. Given that and 1 are sets of numbers, that is non-empty, that 1 is
bounded above, and that _ 1, explain why sup and sup1 exist and
why sup _ sup1.
24. Given that and 1 are non-empty subsets of R with _ 1 and 1
bounded, show that inf 1 _ inf _ sup _ sup1.
25. Given that is a non-empty bounded set of numbers, explain why inf _
sup.
26. Let o be a subset of R and let a R. Dene a + o = a + : : : o.
Assume that o is non-empty and bounded. Show that sup(a + o) =
a + supo and inf (a + o) = a + inf o.
27. Show that every non-empty nite subset of R contains both a maximum
and a minimum element (hint: use induction).
28. Does (a, /) Z have a largest element, a smallest element? If yes, what
are they and why?
29. Let o be a non-empty bounded subset of R. Let c = supo and , = inf o.
Let c 0 be given.
(a) Explain why c and , exist.
(b) Prove that there exists :
0
o such that c c < :
0
.
(c) Prove that there exists :
1
o such that :
1
< , + c.