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Diagonalization and Jordan Form I

July 25, 2009

This post talks about the existence of Jordan form by decomposing a vector space V into direct sum of generalized eigenspaces.

In this post we will work over algebraically closed fields.

The diagonalization problem asks whether a linear transformation admits an eigenbasis. Eequivalently it asks when an n \times n matrix A is similar to a diagonal matrix, i.e. A = PDP^{-1} for some invertible matrix P and a diagonal matrix D.

Let the characteristic polynomial of A be p_A(t) = \prod_{i=1}^{k} (t - \lambda_i)^{n_i}, where \lambda_i are the distinct eigenvalues of A and n_i are the respective algebraic multiplicities.

Theorem 1 Let T:V \rightarrow V is an endomorphism for finite dimensional vector space V (over an algebraically closed field). Let its characteristic polynomial be p_T(t) = \prod_{i=1}^k \left (t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}. Then V = \bigoplus_{i=1}^k \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I\right)^{n_i}.


1. The sum part

Notice that \prod_{i=2}^k \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}, \left(t - \lambda_1\right)^{n_1} \prod_{i=3}^k \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}, …, \prod_{i=1}^{k-1} \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i} are relatively prime. Therefore we can find polynomials q_1(t), \cdots, q_k(t) such that

\displaystyle q_1(t) \prod_{i=2}^k \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i} + q_2(t) \left(t - \lambda_1\right)^{n_1} \prod_{i=3}^k \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i} + \cdots + q_k(t) \prod_{i=1}^{k-1} \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i} = 1\;\;\;\;\;\; (1)

For any vector v \in V, notice that \prod_{i=2}^k \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}v \in \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_1 I\right)^{n_1}, by Cayley-Hamilton theorem. Analogously we have other inclusions. Therefore by applying (1) to v, we have

\displaystyle q_1(t) \prod_{i=2}^k \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}v + q_2(t) \left(t - \lambda_1\right)^{n_1} \prod_{i=3}^k \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}v + \cdots + q_k(t) \prod_{i=1}^{k-1} \left(t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}v = v\;\;\;\;\;\;(2)

This gives a required decomposition.

2. The direct part

WLOG suppose that

\displaystyle a_1v_1 + \cdots + a_mv_m = 0\;\;\;\;\;\;(3)

where v_i \in \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I\right)^{n_i}, is the shortest possible relation for which a_1, \cdots, a_m \neq 0.(m \leq k). Applying T on both sides gives

\displaystyle a_1 \lambda_1 v_1 + \cdots + a_m \lambda_m v_m = 0\;\;\;\;\;\;(4)

(3) and (4) are linearly independent equations, because \lambda_1, \cdots \lambda_k are all distinct. Therefore it is possible to eliminate one of the vectors involved, e.g. (4) - \lambda_1 (3) to eliminate v_1, and still have other coefficients to be nonzero. This contradicts the minimality assumption, so v_1, \cdots, v_k must be linearly independent.\Box

Corollary 1 T is diagonalizable if and only if for each \lambda_i, \mathrm{Ker} \, (T - \lambda_i I)^{n_i} = \mathrm{Ker} \, (T - \lambda_i I).

This is because being able to find an eigenbasis means exactly that V = \bigoplus_{i=1}^k \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I\right).

Proposition 2 \mathrm{dim} \, \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I\right)^{n_i} = n_i.

This will be clear using Jordan form.

Corollary 2 T is diagonalizable if and only if for each \lambda_i, n_i = \mathrm{dim} \,\mathrm{Ker} \, (T - \lambda_i I).

\mathrm{dim} \,\mathrm{Ker} \, (T - \lambda_i I) is usually called the geometric multiplicity of the eigenvalue \lambda_i.  Thus the above corollary may be rephrased as

Corollary 2′ T is diagonalizable if and only if for each \lambda_i, the algebraic multiplicity coincides with the geometric multiplicity.

Proposition 2 also gives the following quick corollary.

Corollary 3 The algebraic multiplicity is always no less than the geometric multiplicity.

So the diagonalization problem boils down to whether \mathrm{Ker} \, (T - \lambda_i I)^{n_i} = \mathrm{Ker} \, (T - \lambda_i I). This may not hold in many situations. The natural question is then: can we choose a nice basis from each \mathrm{Ker} \, (T - \lambda_i I)^{n_i} such that when T is diagonalizable, the selected basis is an eigenbasis?

one answer to this qusetion is the Jordan form. The Jordan canonical form picks a basis such that the matrix constitutes Jordan blocks of the form \left(\begin{array}{ccccc}\lambda & 1 & 0 & \cdots & 0 \\ 0 & \lambda & 1 & \cdots & 0 \\ \vdots & \vdots & \vdots & \ddots & \vdots \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & \cdots & \lambda \\ \end{array}\right)

Theorem 2 (Existence of Jordan form) Let T:V \rightarrow V is an endomorphism for finite dimensional vector space V (over an algebraically closed field). Let its characteristic polynomial be p_T(t) = \prod_{i=1}^k \left (t - \lambda_i \right)^{n_i}. Then there exists a basis of V so that the matrix representation of T is a direct sum of Jordan blocks.

Furthermore, the number of Jordan blocks and the size of each of them is an invariant for T.


Since we have already shown V = \bigoplus_{i=1}^k \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I\right)^{n_i}, it suffices to choose a nice basis in each \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I\right)^{n_i}.

Let W = \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I \right)^{n_i}. Then T - \lambda_i I is a W-invariant map. Therefore, we may regard W as an F[T - \lambda_i I]-module. Since F[T - \lambda_i I] is a principal ideal domain, we may invoke the structure theorem for finitely generated modules over PID to see that

\displaystyle W = \bigoplus_{j=1}^m W_m

where each W_m is a cyclic subspace. Take W_1 as an example. Let v be its generator, and suppose that p is the smallest number such that (T-\lambda_i I)^p v = 0. Then it is immediate that \{ (T-\lambda_i I)^{p-1} v, (T-\lambda_i I)^{p-2}, \cdots, v\} forms a basis for W_1. It is then routine to show that with respect tothis basis, T takes exactly the form of a Jordan block.

Similarly, one can choose basis for the other W_j to get a required basis for \mathrm{Ker} \, \left(T - \lambda_i I \right)^n for each eigenvalue \lambda_i. Put them together and we have found a basis with the desired matrix representation.

Notice that the number of Jordan blocks is determined by the number of distinct eigenvalues and the number of cyclic modules in the decomposition. The size of Jordan blocks is determined by the invariants associated to the decomposition into cyclic modules. The uniqueness thus follows. \Box

Although the above proof cannot help us to do any computation, it has some theoretical implications because the Jordan form is easier to manipulate.

Proposition 3 (Minimal Polynomial)

For each eigenvalue \lambda_i, let r_i be the size of the largest Jordan block corresponding to \lambda_i. Then the minimal polynomial for T is

\displaystyle p_T(t) = \prod_{i=1}^k \left (t - \lambda_i \right)^{r_i}


  1. In fact one can directly apply the structure theorem for finitely generated modules over PID to get Jordan form directly. (skipping the proof of theorem 1) To me, a constructive proof is better though.
  2. The algebraically closed field condition can be replaced by “the characteristic polynomial splits”, because all we used is that eigenvalues exist.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2009 6:08 am

    I recall struggling some time back trying to understand the proof of the Jordan normal form from a pure linear algebra textbook; it was only when, later on, I re-learned it from Lang’s Algebra using the structure theorem that it actually made much more sense.

    Then again, I also think when the Jordan form is often used (e.g. in the theory of Lie algebras), the main idea is not so much the form itself, but the fact that one gets to represent a matrix as a sum of a semisimple and a nilpotent element which are each polynomials in the initial matrix.

    • soarerz permalink*
      July 26, 2009 11:53 am

      I have the same experience. I don’t remember about the first proof of Jordan form I saw, and I can only remember this one using structure theorem of f.g. modules. This theorem gives such a clean explanation for both Jordan form and rational canonical form.

      By the way, how did you manage to find here?

  2. July 26, 2009 10:36 pm

    I found this page using the “Tag surfer” feature on WordPress, on which your post on sheaves came up (since “algebraic geometry” is a tag I had selected), after which I looked at the blog in general.

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