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A is a subset of B and conversely B is a superset of A]]

In mathematics, especially in set theory, a set A is a subset of a set B if A is "contained" inside B. Notice that A and B may coincide. The relationship of one set being a subset of another is called inclusion.



If A and B are sets and every element of A is also an element of B, then:

  • A is a subset of (or is included in) B, denoted by A \subseteq B,
or equivalently
  • B is a superset of (or includes) A, denoted by B \supseteq A.

If A is a subset of B, but A is not equal to B (i.e. there exists at least one element of B not contained in A), then

  • A is also a proper (or strict) subset of B; this is written as A\subsetneq B.
or equivalently
  • B is a proper superset of A; this is written as B\supsetneq A.

For any set S, the inclusion relation ⊆ is a partial order on the set 2S of all subsets of S (the power set of S).

The symbols ⊂ and ⊃

Some authors use the symbols ⊂ and ⊃ to indicate "subset" and "superset" respectively, instead of the symbols ⊆ and ⊇, but with the same meaning. So for example, for these authors, it is true of every set A that A ⊂ A.

Other authors prefer to use the symbols ⊂ and ⊃ to indicate proper subset and superset, respectively, in place of \subsetneq and \supsetneq. This usage makes ⊆ and ⊂ analogous to ≤ and <. For example, if x ≤ y then x may be equal to y, or maybe not, but if x < y, then x definitely does not equal y, but is strictly less than y. Similarly, using the "⊂ means proper subset" convention, if A ⊆ B, then A may or may not be equal to B, but if A ⊂ B, then A is definitely not equal to B.


  • The set {1, 2} is a proper subset of {1, 2, 3}.
  • Any set is a subset of itself, but not a proper subset.
  • The empty set, denoted by ∅, is also a subset of any given set X. (This statement is vacuously true.) The empty set is always a proper subset, except of itself.
  • The set {x: x is a prime number greater than 2000} is a proper subset of {x: x is an odd number greater than 1000}
  • The set of natural numbers is a proper subset of the set of rational numbers and the set of points in a line segment is a proper subset of the set of points in a line. These are counter-intuitive examples in which both the part and the whole are infinite, and the part has the same number of elements as the whole (see Cardinality of infinite sets).

Other properties of inclusion

Inclusion is the canonical partial order in the sense that every partially ordered set (X, \preceq) is isomorphic to some collection of sets ordered by inclusion. The ordinal numbers are a simple example—if each ordinal n is identified with the set [n] of all ordinals less than or equal to n, then ab if and only if [a] ⊆ [b].

For the power set 2S of a set S, the inclusion partial order is (up to an order isomorphism) the Cartesian product of k = |S| (the cardinality of S) copies of the partial order on {0,1} for which 0 < 1. This can be illustrated by enumerating S = {s1, s2, …, sk} and associating with each subset TS (which is to say with each element of 2S) the k-tuple from {0,1}k of which the ith coordinate is 1 if and only if si is a member of T.



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary







subset (plural subsets)

  1. (set theory) With respect to another set, a set such that each of its elements is also an element of the other set.
    The set of integers is a subset of the set of reals.
    The set {a, b} is a both a subset and a proper subset of {a, b, c} while the set {a, b, c} is a subset of {a, b, c} but not a proper subset of {a, b, c}.
  2. A group of things or people, all of which are in a specified larger group.
    We asked a subset of the population of the town for their opinion.


Derived terms


Simple English

A subset is a set which has some (or all) of the elements of another set, called superset, but does not have any elements that the superset does not have. A subset which does not have all the elements of its superset is called a proper subset. We use the symbol ⊆ to say a set is a subset of another set. We can also use ⊂ if it is a proper subset. The symbols ⊃ ⊇ are opposite - they tell us the second element is a (proper) subset of the first.


  • {1,2,3} is a proper subset of {-563,1,2,3,68}.
\{ 1,2,3\} \subset \{-563,1,2,3,68\}
[0;1] \subset R
[0;1] \subset (R~\backslash ~R_-)
  • {46,189,1264} is its own subset, and it's a proper subset of the set of natural numbers.
\{ 46,189,1264\} \subseteq \{ 46,189,1264\}
\{ 46,189,1264\} \subset N


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