Type Binary relation Elementary algebra A relation ${\displaystyle R}$ on a set ${\displaystyle X}$ is transitive if, for all elements ${\displaystyle a}$, ${\displaystyle b}$, ${\displaystyle c}$ in ${\displaystyle X}$, whenever ${\displaystyle R}$ relates ${\displaystyle a}$ to ${\displaystyle b}$ and ${\displaystyle b}$ to ${\displaystyle c}$, then ${\displaystyle R}$ also relates ${\displaystyle a}$ to ${\displaystyle c}$. ${\displaystyle \forall a,b,c\in X:(aRb\wedge bRc)\Rightarrow aRc}$

In mathematics, a binary relation R on a set X is transitive if, for all elements a, b, c in X, whenever R relates a to b and b to c, then R also relates a to c.

Every partial order and every equivalence relation is transitive. For example, less than and equality among real numbers are both transitive: If a < b and b < c then a < c; and if x = y and y = z then x = z.

## Definition

 Symmetric Antisymmetric Connected Well-founded Has joins Has meets Reflexive Irreflexive Asymmetric Total, Semiconnex Anti-reflexive Equivalence relation ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Preorder (Quasiorder) ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Partial order ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Total preorder ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Total order ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Prewellordering ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Well-quasi-ordering ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Well-ordering ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Lattice ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Join-semilattice ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Meet-semilattice ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Strict partial order ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Strict weak order ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Strict total order ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ ✗ Symmetric Antisymmetric Connected Well-founded Has joins Has meets Reflexive Irreflexive Asymmetric Definitions, for all ${\displaystyle a,b}$ and ${\displaystyle S\neq \varnothing :}$ {\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}&aRb\\\Rightarrow {}&bRa\end{aligned))} {\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}aRb{\text{ and ))&bRa\\\Rightarrow a={}&b\end{aligned))} {\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}a\neq {}&b\Rightarrow \\aRb{\text{ or ))&bRa\end{aligned))} {\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}\min S\\{\text{exists))\end{aligned))} {\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}a\vee b\\{\text{exists))\end{aligned))} {\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}a\wedge b\\{\text{exists))\end{aligned))} ${\displaystyle aRa}$ ${\displaystyle {\text{not ))aRa}$ {\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}aRb\Rightarrow \\{\text{not ))bRa\end{aligned))}
indicates that the column's property is always true the row's term (at the very left), while indicates that the property is not guaranteed in general (it might, or might not, hold). For example, that every equivalence relation is symmetric, but not necessarily antisymmetric, is indicated by in the "Symmetric" column and in the "Antisymmetric" column, respectively.

All definitions tacitly require the homogeneous relation ${\displaystyle R}$ be transitive: for all ${\displaystyle a,b,c,}$ if ${\displaystyle aRb}$ and ${\displaystyle bRc}$ then ${\displaystyle aRc.}$
A term's definition may require additional properties that are not listed in this table.

A homogeneous relation R on the set X is a transitive relation if,[1]

for all a, b, cX, if a R b and b R c, then a R c.

Or in terms of first-order logic:

${\displaystyle \forall a,b,c\in X:(aRb\wedge bRc)\Rightarrow aRc}$,

where a R b is the infix notation for (a, b) ∈ R.

## Examples

As a non-mathematical example, the relation "is an ancestor of" is transitive. For example, if Amy is an ancestor of Becky, and Becky is an ancestor of Carrie, then Amy is also an ancestor of Carrie.

On the other hand, "is the birth mother of" is not a transitive relation, because if Alice is the birth mother of Brenda, and Brenda is the birth mother of Claire, then it does not follow that Alice is the birth mother of Claire. In fact, this relation is antitransitive: Alice can never be the birth mother of Claire.

Non-transitive, non-antitransitive relations include sports fixtures (playoff schedules), 'knows' and 'talks to'.

The examples "is greater than", "is at least as great as", and "is equal to" (equality) are transitive relations on various sets. As are the set of real numbers or the set of natural numbers:

whenever x > y and y > z, then also x > z
whenever xy and yz, then also xz
whenever x = y and y = z, then also x = z.

More examples of transitive relations:

Examples of non-transitive relations:

The empty relation on any set ${\displaystyle X}$ is transitive[3] because there are no elements ${\displaystyle a,b,c\in X}$ such that ${\displaystyle aRb}$ and ${\displaystyle bRc}$, and hence the transitivity condition is vacuously true. A relation R containing only one ordered pair is also transitive: if the ordered pair is of the form ${\displaystyle (x,x)}$ for some ${\displaystyle x\in X}$ the only such elements ${\displaystyle a,b,c\in X}$ are ${\displaystyle a=b=c=x}$, and indeed in this case ${\displaystyle aRc}$, while if the ordered pair is not of the form ${\displaystyle (x,x)}$ then there are no such elements ${\displaystyle a,b,c\in X}$ and hence ${\displaystyle R}$ is vacuously transitive.

## Properties

### Closure properties

• The converse (inverse) of a transitive relation is always transitive. For instance, knowing that "is a subset of" is transitive and "is a superset of" is its converse, one can conclude that the latter is transitive as well.
• The intersection of two transitive relations is always transitive.[4] For instance, knowing that "was born before" and "has the same first name as" are transitive, one can conclude that "was born before and also has the same first name as" is also transitive.
• The union of two transitive relations need not be transitive. For instance, "was born before or has the same first name as" is not a transitive relation, since e.g. Herbert Hoover is related to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is in turn related to Franklin Pierce, while Hoover is not related to Franklin Pierce.
• The complement of a transitive relation need not be transitive.[5] For instance, while "equal to" is transitive, "not equal to" is only transitive on sets with at most one element.

### Other properties

A transitive relation is asymmetric if and only if it is irreflexive.[6]

A transitive relation need not be reflexive. When it is, it is called a preorder. For example, on set X = {1,2,3}:

• R = { (1,1), (2,2), (3,3), (1,3), (3,2) } is reflexive, but not transitive, as the pair (1,2) is absent,
• R = { (1,1), (2,2), (3,3), (1,3) } is reflexive as well as transitive, so it is a preorder,
• R = { (1,1), (2,2), (3,3) } is reflexive as well as transitive, another preorder.

## Transitive extensions and transitive closure

Let R be a binary relation on set X. The transitive extension of R, denoted R1, is the smallest binary relation on X such that R1 contains R, and if (a, b) ∈ R and (b, c) ∈ R then (a, c) ∈ R1.[7] For example, suppose X is a set of towns, some of which are connected by roads. Let R be the relation on towns where (A, B) ∈ R if there is a road directly linking town A and town B. This relation need not be transitive. The transitive extension of this relation can be defined by (A, C) ∈ R1 if you can travel between towns A and C by using at most two roads.

If a relation is transitive then its transitive extension is itself, that is, if R is a transitive relation then R1 = R.

The transitive extension of R1 would be denoted by R2, and continuing in this way, in general, the transitive extension of Ri would be Ri + 1. The transitive closure of R, denoted by R* or R is the set union of R, R1, R2, ... .[8]

The transitive closure of a relation is a transitive relation.[8]

The relation "is the birth parent of" on a set of people is not a transitive relation. However, in biology the need often arises to consider birth parenthood over an arbitrary number of generations: the relation "is a birth ancestor of" is a transitive relation and it is the transitive closure of the relation "is the birth parent of".

For the example of towns and roads above, (A, C) ∈ R* provided you can travel between towns A and C using any number of roads.

## Counting transitive relations

No general formula that counts the number of transitive relations on a finite set (sequence A006905 in the OEIS) is known.[9] However, there is a formula for finding the number of relations that are simultaneously reflexive, symmetric, and transitive – in other words, equivalence relations – (sequence A000110 in the OEIS), those that are symmetric and transitive, those that are symmetric, transitive, and antisymmetric, and those that are total, transitive, and antisymmetric. Pfeiffer[10] has made some progress in this direction, expressing relations with combinations of these properties in terms of each other, but still calculating any one is difficult. See also Brinkmann and McKay (2005).[11]

Since the reflexivization of any transitive relation is a preorder, the number of transitive relations an on n-element set is at most 2n time more than the number of preorders, thus it is asymptotically ${\displaystyle 2^{(1/4+o(1))n^{2))}$ by results of Kleitman and Rothschild.[12]

Number of n-element binary relations of different types
Elem­ents Any Transitive Reflexive Symmetric Preorder Partial order Total preorder Total order Equivalence relation
0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 2 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 1
2 16 13 4 8 4 3 3 2 2
3 512 171 64 64 29 19 13 6 5
4 65,536 3,994 4,096 1,024 355 219 75 24 15
n 2n2 2n(n−1) 2n(n+1)/2 n
k=0
k!S(n, k)
n! n
k=0
S(n, k)
OEIS A002416 A006905 A053763 A006125 A000798 A001035 A000670 A000142 A000110

Note that S(n, k) refers to Stirling numbers of the second kind.

A relation R is called intransitive if it is not transitive, that is, if xRy and yRz, but not xRz, for some x, y, z. In contrast, a relation R is called antitransitive if xRy and yRz always implies that xRz does not hold. For example, the relation defined by xRy if xy is an even number is intransitive,[13] but not antitransitive.[14] The relation defined by xRy if x is even and y is odd is both transitive and antitransitive.[15] The relation defined by xRy if x is the successor number of y is both intransitive[16] and antitransitive.[17] Unexpected examples of intransitivity arise in situations such as political questions or group preferences.[18]

Generalized to stochastic versions (stochastic transitivity), the study of transitivity finds applications of in decision theory, psychometrics and utility models.[19]

A quasitransitive relation is another generalization;[5] it is required to be transitive only on its non-symmetric part. Such relations are used in social choice theory or microeconomics.[20]

Proposition: If R is a univalent, then R;RT is transitive.

proof: Suppose ${\displaystyle xR;R^{T}yR;R^{T}z.}$ Then there are a and b such that ${\displaystyle xRaR^{T}yRbR^{T}z.}$ Since R is univalent, yRb and aRTy imply a=b. Therefore xRaRTz, hence xR;RTz and R;RT is transitive.

Corollary: If R is univalent, then R;RT is an equivalence relation on the domain of R.

proof: R;RT is symmetric and reflexive on its domain. With univalence of R, the transitive requirement for equivalence is fulfilled.

## Notes

1. ^ Smith, Eggen & St. Andre 2006, p. 145
2. ^ However, the class of von Neumann ordinals is constructed in a way such that ∈ is transitive when restricted to that class.
3. ^ Smith, Eggen & St. Andre 2006, p. 146
4. ^ Bianchi, Mariagrazia; Mauri, Anna Gillio Berta; Herzog, Marcel; Verardi, Libero (2000-01-12). "On finite solvable groups in which normality is a transitive relation". Journal of Group Theory. 3 (2). doi:10.1515/jgth.2000.012. ISSN 1433-5883. Archived from the original on 2023-02-04. Retrieved 2022-12-29.
5. ^ a b Robinson, Derek J. S. (January 1964). "Groups in which normality is a transitive relation". Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 60 (1): 21–38. Bibcode:1964PCPS...60...21R. doi:10.1017/S0305004100037403. ISSN 0305-0041. S2CID 119707269. Archived from the original on 2023-02-04. Retrieved 2022-12-29.
6. ^ Flaška, V.; Ježek, J.; Kepka, T.; Kortelainen, J. (2007). Transitive Closures of Binary Relations I (PDF). Prague: School of Mathematics - Physics Charles University. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-11-02. Lemma 1.1 (iv). Note that this source refers to asymmetric relations as "strictly antisymmetric".
7. ^ Liu 1985, p. 111
8. ^ a b Liu 1985, p. 112
9. ^ Steven R. Finch, "Transitive relations, topologies and partial orders" Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, 2003.
10. ^ Götz Pfeiffer, "Counting Transitive Relations Archived 2023-02-04 at the Wayback Machine", Journal of Integer Sequences, Vol. 7 (2004), Article 04.3.2.
11. ^ Gunnar Brinkmann and Brendan D. McKay,"Counting unlabelled topologies and transitive relations Archived 2005-07-20 at the Wayback Machine"
12. ^ Kleitman, D.; Rothschild, B. (1970), "The number of finite topologies", Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society, 25 (2): 276–282, JSTOR 2037205
13. ^ since e.g. 3R4 and 4R5, but not 3R5
14. ^ since e.g. 2R3 and 3R4 and 2R4
15. ^ since xRy and yRz can never happen
16. ^ since e.g. 3R2 and 2R1, but not 3R1
17. ^ since, more generally, xRy and yRz implies x=y+1=z+2≠z+1, i.e. not xRz, for all x, y, z
18. ^ Drum, Kevin (November 2018). "Preferences are not transitive". Mother Jones. Archived from the original on 2018-11-29. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
19. ^ Oliveira, I.F.D.; Zehavi, S.; Davidov, O. (August 2018). "Stochastic transitivity: Axioms and models". Journal of Mathematical Psychology. 85: 25–35. doi:10.1016/j.jmp.2018.06.002. ISSN 0022-2496.
20. ^ Sen, A. (1969). "Quasi-transitivity, rational choice and collective decisions". Rev. Econ. Stud. 36 (3): 381–393. doi:10.2307/2296434. JSTOR 2296434. Zbl 0181.47302.