Definition:Product Notation (Algebra)

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Let $\struct {S, \times}$ be an algebraic structure where the operation $\times$ is an operation derived from, or arising from, the multiplication operation on the natural numbers.

Let $\tuple {a_1, a_2, \ldots, a_n} \in S^n$ be an ordered $n$-tuple in $S$.

Definition by Index

The composite is called the product of $\tuple {a_1, a_2, \ldots, a_n}$, and is written:

$\ds \prod_{j \mathop = 1}^n a_j = \paren {a_1 \times a_2 \times \cdots \times a_n}$

Definition by Inequality

The product of $\tuple {a_1, a_2, \ldots, a_n}$ can be written:

$\ds \prod_{1 \mathop \le j \mathop \le n} a_j = \paren {a_1 \times a_2 \times \cdots \times a_n}$

Definition by Propositional Function

Let $\map R j$ be a propositional function of $j$.

Then we can write:

$\ds \prod_{\map R j} a_j = \text{ The product of all $a_j$ such that $\map R j$ holds}$.

If more than one propositional function is written under the product sign, they must all hold.


Let an infinite number of values of $j$ satisfy the propositional function $\map R j$.

Then the precise meaning of $\ds \prod_{\map R j} a_j$ is:

$\ds \prod_{\map R j} a_j = \paren {\lim_{n \mathop \to \infty} \prod_{\substack {\map R j \\ -n \mathop \le j \mathop < 0} } a_j} \times \paren {\lim_{n \mathop \to \infty} \prod_{\substack {\map R j \\ 0 \mathop \le j \mathop \le n} } a_j}$

provided that both limits exist.

If either limit does fail to exist, then the infinite product does not exist.

Index Variable

Consider the product, in either of the three forms:

$\ds \prod_{j \mathop = 1}^n a_j \qquad \prod_{1 \mathop \le j \mathop \le n} a_j \qquad \prod_{\map R j} a_j$

The variable $j$, an example of a bound variable, is known as the index variable of the product.


The set of elements $\set {a_j \in S: 1 \le j \le n, \map R j}$ is called the multiplicand.


The sign $\ds \prod$ is called the product sign and is derived from the capital Greek letter $\Pi$, which is $\mathrm P$, the first letter of product.

Vacuous Product

Take the composite expressed in product notation:

$\ds \prod_{\map R j} a_j$

where $\map R j$ is a propositional function of $j$.

Suppose that there are no values of $j$ for which $\map R j$ is true.

Then $\ds \prod_{\map R j} a_j$ is defined as being $1$. Beware: not zero.

This composite is called a vacuous product.

This is because:

$\forall a: a \times 1 = a$

where $a$ is a number.

Hence for all $j$ for which $\map R j$ is false, the product is unaffected.

This is most frequently seen in the form:

$\ds \prod_{j \mathop = m}^n a_j = 1$

where $m > n$.

In this case, $j$ can not at the same time be both greater than or equal to $m$ and less than or equal to $n$.

Also see

  • Results about product notation can be found here.

Historical Note

The originally investigation into the theory of infinite products was carried out by Leonhard Paul Euler.