Formally, a group action is a map from the Cartesian product , written as or or satisfying the following properties:
If we let denote the permutation associated with action by the group element , then the map from G to the symmetric group on X is a group homomorphism, and every group action arises in this way. We may speak of the action as a permutation representation of G. The kernel of the map A is also called the kernel of the action, and a faithful action is one with trivial kernel. Since we have
where K is the kernel of the action, there is no loss of generality in restricting consideration to faithful actions where convenient.
- Any group acts on any set by the trivial action in which .
- The symmetric group acts of X by permuting elements in the natural way.
- The automorphism group of an algebraic structure acts on the structure.
- A group acts on itself by right translation.
- A group acts on itself by Conjugation (group theory)conjugation.
The stabiliser of an element x of X is the subset of G which fixes x:
The stabiliser is a subgroup of G.
The orbit of any x in X is the subset of X which can be "reached" from x by the action of G:
The orbits partition the set X: they are the equivalence classes for the relation defined by
If x and y are in the same orbit, their stabilisers are conjugate.
Hence the order of the orbit is equal to the index of the stabiliser. If G is finite, the order of the orbit is a factor of the order of G.
A fixed point of an action is just an element x of X such that for all g in G: that is, such that .
- In the trivial action, every point is a fixed point and the orbits are all singletons.
- Let be a permutation in the usual action of on . The cyclic subgroup generated by acts on X and the orbits are the cycles of .
- If G acts on itself by conjugation, then the orbits are the conjugacy classes and the fixed points are the elements of the centre.
An action is transitive or 1-transitive if for any x and y in X there exists a g in G such that . Equivalently, the action is transitive if it has only one orbit.
More generally an action is k -transitive for some fixed number k if any k-tuple of distinct elements of X can be mapped to any other k-tuple of distinct elements by some group element.
An action is primitive if there is no non-trivial partition of the set X which is preserved by the group action. Since the orbits form a partition preserved by this group action, primitive implies transitive. Further, 2-transitive implies primitive.