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Span of Vectors

  1. Jan 30, 2014 #1
    Hello Everyone,

    Pardon me if the following is incoherent. From what I understood of what my professor said, he was basically saying that when a vector can be written as a linear combination of some vectors in a span, this means, geometrically, that the vector is in the plane that the span of vectors defines. How true is this? And if it is so, does anyone know of a good example that illustrates this point?

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 30, 2014 #2


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    To clarify, a vector written as a linear combination of two vectors is in the plane defined by the two vectors. If the span has more than two vectors, it could define a higher dimensional object.
  4. Jan 30, 2014 #3


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    I'm not sure that "plane" is the right word since that tends to imply two dimensions. A more general term would be "hyper-plane" but even that tends to imply that we are working in Rn. The most correct word is "subspace".

    Consider the vectors <3, 1, 1, 0>, <2, 2, 0, 4>, <5, 3, 1, 4>, and <1, 0, 1, 0> in R4.
    By definition of 'span' any vector in the span of those four vectors can be written as a linear combination, a<3, 1, 1, 0>+ b<2, 2, 0, 4>+ c<5, 3, 1, 4>+ d<1, 0, 1, 0>.

    But those four vectors are NOT "independent". In particular, <5, 3, 1, 4>= <3, 1, 1, 0>+ <2, 2, 0, 4> so that is the same as (a+ c)<3, 1, 1, 0>+ (b+ c)<2, 2, 0, 4>+ d<1, 0, 1, 0>. That is a 3 dimensional hyper-plane (subspace) of R4.

    For another example, let [itex]f(x)= x^3+x^2+ 2x[/itex], [itex]g=x^2+ 3x- 4[/itex], and [itex]h(x)= x^3+ 2x^2+ 5x- 4[/itex] in the vector space of cubic polynomials in x (which is four dimensional). Any vector in their span can be written as [itex]a(x^3+x^2+ 2x)+ b(x^2+ 3x- 4)+ c(x^3+ 2x^2+ 5x- 4)[/itex]. But [itex]x^2+ 2x^2+ 5x- 4= (x^3+ x^2+ 2x)+ (x^2+ 3x- 4)[/itex] so that is [itex](a+c)(x^3+x^2+2x)+(b+c)(x^2+ + 3x- 4)[/itex]. That is a two dimensional subspace but I wouldn't call it either a "plane" or a "hyper-plane".
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