Linear span

In the mathematical subfield of linear algebra, the linear span, also called the linear hull, of a set of vectors in a vector space is the intersection of all subspaces containing that set. The linear span of a set of vectors is therefore a vector space.


Given a vector space V over a field K, the span of a set S (not necessarily finite) is defined to be the intersection W of all subspaces of V which contain S. W is referred to as the subspace spanned by S, or by the vectors in S.

If S = {v_1,...,v_r}, is a finite subset of V, then the span is

{ rm span } left(Sright) = { rm span } left(v_1,...,v_rright) = left{ {lambda _1 v_1 + cdots + lambda _r v_r |lambda _1 , ldots ,lambda _r in mathbb K} right}.


The span of S may also be defined as the collection of all (finite) linear combinations of the elements of S.

If the span of S is V, then S is said to be a spanning set of V. A spanning set of V is not necessarily a basis for V, as it need not be linearly independent. However, a minimal spanning set for a given vector space is necessarily a basis. In other words, a spanning set is a basis for V if and only if every vector in V can be written as a unique linear combination of elements in the spanning set.


The real vector space R3 has {(1,0,0), (0,1,0), (0,0,1)} as a spanning set. This spanning set is actually a basis.

Another spanning set for the same space is given by {(1,2,3), (0,1,2), (−1,1/2,3), (1,1,1)}, but this set is not a basis, because it is linearly dependent.

The set {(1,0,0), (0,1,0), (1,1,0)} is not a spanning set of R3; instead its span is the space of all vectors in R3 whose last component is zero.


Theorem 1: The subspace spanned by a non-empty subset S of a vector space V is the set of all linear combinations of vectors in S.

This theorem is so well known that at times it is referred to as the definition of span of a set.

Theorem 2: Let V be a finite dimensional vector space. Any set of vectors that spans V can be reduced to a basis by discarding vectors if necessary.

This also indicates that a basis is a minimal spanning set when V is finite dimensional.


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