Weyl character formula

In mathematics, the Weyl character formula in representation theory describes the characters of irreducible representations of compact Lie groups in terms of their highest weights. It is named after Hermann Weyl, who proved it in the late 1920s.

By definition, the character of a representation r of G is the trace of r(g), as a function of a group element g in G. The irreducible representations in this case are all finite-dimensional (this is part of the Peter-Weyl theorem); so the notion of trace is the usual one from linear algebra. Knowledge of the character χ of r is a good substitute for r itself, and can have algorithmic content. Weyl's formula is a closed formula for the χ, in terms of other objects constructed from G and its Lie algebra. The representations in question here are complex, and so without loss of generality are unitary representations; irreducible therefore means the same as indecomposable, i.e. not a direct sum of two subrepresentations.

Statement of Weyl character formula

The character of an irreducible representation V of a compact Lie group G is given by

ch(V)={sum_{win W} (-1)^{ell(w)}w(e^{lambda+rho}) over e^{rho}prod_{alpha>0}(1-e^{-alpha})}


  • ρ is the Weyl vector of the group G, defined to be half the sum of the positive roots;
  • W is the Weyl group;
  • λ is the highest weight of the irreducible representation V;
  • α runs over the positive roots of the Lie group.

Weyl denominator formula

In the special case of the trivial 1 dimensional representation the character is 1, so the Weyl character formula becomes the Weyl denominator formula:

{sum_{win W} (-1)^{ell(w)}w(e^{rho}) = e^{rho}prod_{alpha>0}(1-e^{-alpha})}.

For special unitary groups, this is equivalent to the expression

sum_{sigma in S_n} sgn(sigma) , alpha_1^{sigma(1)-1} cdots alpha_n^{sigma(n)-1} =prod_{1le i for the Vandermonde determinant.

Weyl dimension formula

By specialization to the trace of the identity element, Weyl's character formula gives the Weyl dimension formula

dim(V_Lambda) = {prod_{alpha>0}(Lambda+rho,alpha) over prod_{alpha>0}(rho,alpha)}
for the dimension of a finite dimensional representation VΛ with highest weight Λ. (As usual, ρ is the Weyl vector and the products run over positive roots α.) The specialization is not completely trivial, because both the numerator and denominator of the Weyl character formula vanish to high order at the identity element, so it is necessary to take a limit of the trace of an element tending to the identity.

Freudenthal's formula

Hans Freudenthal's formula is a recursive formula for the weight multiplicities that is equivalent to the Weyl character formula, but is sometimes easier to use for calculations as there can be far fewer terms to sum. It states

((Lambda+rho)^2 - (lambda+rho)^2)dim V_lambda
= 2 sum_{alpha>0}sum_{jge 1} (lambda+jalpha, alpha)dim V_{lambda+jalpha}


  • Λ is a highest weight,
  • λ is some other weight,
  • dim Vλ is the multiplicity of the weight λ
  • ρ is the Weyl vector
  • The first sum is over all positive roots α.

Weyl–Kac character formula

The Weyl character formula also holds for integrable highest weight representations of Kac-Moody algebras, when it is known as the Weyl-Kac character formula. Similarly there is a denominator identity for Kac-Moody algebras, which in the case of the affine Lie algebras is equivalent to the Macdonald identities. In the simplest case of the affine Lie algebra of type A1 this is the Jacobi triple product identity

left(1 - x^{2m}right) left(1 - x^{2m-1} yright) left(1 - x^{2m-1} y^{-1}right)


-infty}^infty (-1)^n x^{n^2} y^{n}.

The character formula can also be extended to integrable highest weight representations of generalized Kac-Moody algebras, when the character is given by

{sum_{win W} (-1)^{ell(w)}w(e^{lambda+rho}S) over e^{rho}prod_{alpha>0}(1-e^{-alpha})}.

Here S is a correction term given in terms of the imaginary simple roots by

>e^{Sigma I}right.

where the sum runs over all finite subsets I of the imaginary simple roots which are pairwise orthogonal and orthogonal to the highest weight λ, and |I| is the cardinality of I and ΣI is the sum of the elements of I.

The denominator formula for the monster Lie algebra is the product formula

j(p)-j(q) = left({1 over p} - {1 over q}right) prod_{n,m=1}^{infty}(1-p^n q^m)^{c_{nm}}

for the elliptic modular function j.

Peterson gave a recursion formula for the multiplicities mult(β) of the roots β of a symmetrizable (generalized) Kac-Moody algebra, which is equivalent to the Weyl-Kac denominator formula, but easier to use for calculations:

left.(beta,beta-2rho)c_beta = sum_{gamma+delta=beta} (gamma,delta)c_gamma c_deltaright.
where the sum is over positive roots γ, δ, and
c_beta = sum_{nge 1} {{rm mult}(beta/n)over n}

See also


  • Infinite dimensional Lie algebras, V. G. Kac, ISBN 0-521-37215-1
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