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 iff they have non-empty intersection.

General Definition

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:


Historical Note

The symbol $\cap$, informally known as cap, was first used by Hermann 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]

Also denoted as

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


  1. See Earliest Uses of Symbols of Set Theory and Logic in Jeff Miller's website Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols.