Zariski tangent space

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In algebraic geometry, the Zariski tangent space is a construction that defines a tangent space at a point P on an algebraic variety V (and more generally). It does not use differential calculus, being based directly on abstract algebra, and in the most concrete cases just the theory of a system of linear equations.


For example, suppose C is a plane curve defined by a polynomial equation

F(X,Y) = 0

and take P to be the origin (0,0). Erasing terms of higher order than 1 would produce a 'linearised' equation reading

L(X,Y) = 0

in which all terms XaYb have been discarded if a + b > 1.

We have two cases: L may be 0, or it may be the equation of a line. In the first case the (Zariski) tangent space to C at (0,0) is the whole plane, considered as a two-dimensional affine space. In the second case, the tangent space is that line, considered as affine space. (The question of the origin comes up, when we take P as a general point on C; it is better to say 'affine space' and then note that P is a natural origin, rather than insist directly that it is a vector space.)

It is easy to see that over the real field we can obtain L in terms of the first partial derivatives of F. When those both are 0 at P, we have a singular point (double point, cusp or something more complicated). The general definition is that singular points of C are the cases when the tangent space has dimension 2.


The cotangent space of a local ring R, with maximal ideal is defined to be

where 2 is given by the product of ideals. It is a vector space over the residue field k:= R/. Its dual (as a k-vector space) is called tangent space of R.[1]

This definition is a generalization of the above example to higher dimensions: suppose given an affine algebraic variety V and a point v of V. Morally, modding out 2 corresponds to dropping the non-linear terms from the equations defining V inside some affine space, therefore giving a system of linear equations that define the tangent space.

The tangent space and cotangent space to a scheme X at a point P is the (co)tangent space of . Due to the functoriality of Spec, the natural quotient map induces a homomorphism for X=Spec(R), P a point in Y=Spec(R/I). This is used to embed in .[2] Since morphisms of fields are injective, the surjection of the residue fields induced by g is an isomorphism. Then a morphism k of the cotangent spaces is induced by g, given by

Since this is a surjection, the transpose is an injection.

(One often defines the tangent and cotangent spaces for a manifold in the analogous manner.)

Analytic functions[edit]

If V is a subvariety of an n-dimensional vector space, defined by an ideal I, then R = Fn / I, where Fn is the ring of smooth/analytic/holomorphic functions on this vector space. The Zariski tangent space at x is

mn / (I+mn2),

where mn is the maximal ideal consisting of those functions in Fn vanishing at x.

In the planar example above, I = (F(X,Y)), and I+m2 = (L(X,Y))+m2.


If R is a Noetherian local ring, the dimension of the tangent space is at least the dimension of R:

R is called regular if equality holds. In a more geometric parlance, when R is the local ring of a variety V at a point v, one also says that v is a regular point. Otherwise it is called a singular point.

The tangent space has an interpretation in terms of K[t]/(t2), the dual numbers for K; in the parlance of schemes, morphisms from Spec K[t]/(t2) to a scheme X over K correspond to a choice of a rational point x ∈ X(k) and an element of the tangent space at x.[3] Therefore, one also talks about tangent vectors. See also: tangent space to a functor.

In general, the dimension of the Zariski tangent space can be extremely large. For example, let be the ring of continuously differentiable real-valued functions on . Define to be the ring of germs of such functions at the origin. Then R is a local ring, and its maximal ideal m consists of all germs which vanish at the origin. The functions for define linearly independent vectors in the Zariski cotangent space , so the dimension of is at least the , the cardinality of the continuum. The dimension of the Zariski tangent space is therefore at least . On the other hand, the ring of germs of smooth functions at a point in an n-manifold has an n-dimensional Zariski cotangent space.[a]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Eisenbud & Harris 1998, I.2.2, pg. 26.
  2. ^ James McKernan, Smoothness and the Zariski Tangent Space, 18.726 Spring 2011 Lecture 5
  3. ^ Hartshorne 1977, Exercise II 2.8.


  • Eisenbud, David; Harris, Joe (1998). The Geometry of Schemes. Springer-Verlag. ISBN 0-387-98637-5 – via Internet Archive.
  • Hartshorne, Robin (1977). Algebraic Geometry. Graduate Texts in Mathematics. Vol. 52. New York: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-0-387-90244-9. MR 0463157.
  • Zariski, Oscar (1947). "The concept of a simple point of an abstract algebraic variety". Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. 62: 1–52. doi:10.1090/S0002-9947-1947-0021694-1. MR 0021694. Zbl 0031.26101.

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