Definition:Set Intersection

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Let $S$ and $T$ be any two sets.

The (set) intersection of $S$ and $T$ is written $S \cap T$.

It means the set which consists of all the elements which are contained in both of $S$ and $T$:

$x \in S \cap T \iff x \in S \land x \in T$

or, more formally:

$A = S \cap T \iff \forall z: \left({z \in A \iff z \in S \land z \in T}\right)$

We can write:

$S \cap T := \left\{{x: x \in S \land x \in T}\right\}$

For example, let $S = \left \{{1, 2, 3}\right\}$ and $T = \left \{{2, 3, 4}\right\}$. Then $S \cap T = \left \{{2, 3}\right\}$.

It can be seen that $\cap$ is an operator.

One often says that two sets intersect if and only if they have non-empty intersection.

Set of Sets

Let $\Bbb S$ be a set of sets

The intersection of $\Bbb S$ is:

$\displaystyle \bigcap \Bbb S := \left\{{x: \forall S \in \Bbb S: x \in S}\right\}$

That is, the set of all objects that are elements of all the elements of $\Bbb S$.


$\displaystyle \bigcap \left\{{S, T}\right\} := S \cap T$

Family of Sets

Let $I$ be an indexing set.

Let $\left \langle {S_i} \right \rangle_{i \mathop \in I}$ be a family of sets indexed by $I$.

Then the intersection of $\left \langle {S_i} \right \rangle$ is defined as:

$\displaystyle \bigcap_{i \mathop \in I} S_i := \left\{{x: \forall i \in I: x \in S_i}\right\}$

Countable Intersection

Let $\mathbb S$ be a set of sets.

Let $\left\langle{S_n}\right\rangle_{n \mathop \in \N}$ be a sequence in $\mathbb S$.

Let $S$ be the intersection of $\left\langle{S_n}\right\rangle_{n \mathop \in \N}$:

$\displaystyle S = \bigcap_{n \mathop \in \N} S_n$

Then $S$ is a countable intersection of sets in $\mathbb S$.

Finite Intersection

Let $S = S_1 \cap S_2 \cap \ldots \cap S_n$.


$\displaystyle S = \bigcap_{i \mathop \in \N^*_n} S_i := \left\{{x: \forall i \in \N^*_n: x \in S_i}\right\}$

where $\N^*_n = \left\{{1, 2, 3, \ldots, n}\right\}$.

If it is clear from the context that $i \in \N^*_n$, we can also write $\displaystyle \bigcap_{\N^*_n} S_i$.

Illustration by Venn Diagram

The intersection $S \cap T$ of the two sets $S$ and $T$ is illustrated in the following Venn diagram by the red area:


Also known as

The intersection of sets is also known as the product, but this is usually considered old-fashioned nowadays.

The term meet can also be seen, but this is usually reserved for meet in order theory.

Some authors use the notation $S \ T$ or $S \cdot T$ for $S \cap T$, but this is non-standard and can be confusing.

Also see

  • Intersection of Singleton, where it is shown that $\displaystyle \Bbb S = \left\{{S}\right\} \implies \bigcap \Bbb S = S$
  • Intersection of Empty Set, where it is shown (paradoxically) that $\displaystyle \Bbb S = \left\{{\varnothing}\right\} \implies \bigcap \Bbb S = \Bbb U$
  • Results about set intersections can be found here.


Intersection is translated:

In German: durchschnitt  (literally: (act of) cutting)
In Dutch: doorsnede

Historical Note

The concept of set intersection, or logical multiplication, was stated by Leibniz in his initial conception of symbolic logic.

The symbol $\cap$, informally known as cap, was first used by Hermann Günter Grassmann in Die Ausdehnungslehre from $1844$.

However, he was using it as a general operation symbol, not specialized for intersection.

It was Giuseppe Peano who took this symbol and used it for intersection, in his $1888$ work Calcolo geometrico secondo l'Ausdehnungslehre di H. Grassmann.

Peano also created the large symbol $\bigcap$ for general intersection of more than two sets.

This appeared in his Formulario Mathematico (5th edtion, 1908).[1]