# De Bruijn–Erdős theorem

finite plane

## De Bruijn–Erdős theorem

Let $S$ be a set of $n\neq 0$ ‘points’, say $\{L_{1},L_{2},\dots L_{n}\}$, and let $\Lambda_{1}$, $\Lambda_{2}$, … $\Lambda_{\nu}$ be $\nu$ different subsets of $S$ of which any two have exactly one point in common. Now the De Bruijn–Erdős theorem says that $\nu\leqslant n$, and that if $\nu=n$ then (up to renumbering) at least one of the following three must be true:

• $\Lambda_{i}=\{L_{i},L_{n}\}$ for $i\neq n$, and $\Lambda_{n}=\{L_{n}\}$

• $\Lambda_{i}=\{L_{i},L_{n}\}$ for $i\neq n$, and $\Lambda_{n}=\{L_{1},L_{2},\dots L_{n-1}\}$

• $n$ is of the form $q^{2}+q+1$, each $\Lambda_{i}$ contains $q+1$ points, and each point is contained in $q+1$ of the $\Lambda_{i}$

and we recognise the last case as http://planetmath.org/node/6943finite projective planes of order $q$. For $n=1$ ($q=0$) the first and last case overlap, and for $n=3$ ($q=1$) the last two cases do. The second case is also known as a near-pencil. The last two cases together are examples of linear spaces.

To exclude the first two cases one usually defines projective planes  to satisfy some non-triviality conditions; unfortunately that also excludes projective planes of order 0 and 1.

The formulation above was found in the literature [Cam94]. Naturally, if the $L_{i}$ are points we tend to interpret the subsets $\Lambda_{\iota}$ as lines. However, interpreted in this way the condition that every two $\Lambda$ share an $L$ says rather more than is needed for the structure to be a finite plane (http://planetmath.org/node/3509linear space) as it insists that no two lines are parallel   . The absence of the dual condition, for two $L$ to share a $\Lambda$, actually means we have too little for the structure to be a finite plane (linear space), as for two points we may not have a line through them. And indeed, while the second and third cases are finite planes without parallel lines, the first case is not a plane.

## Erdős–De Bruijn theorem

A dual formulation (which we could whimsically call the Erdős–De Bruijn Theorem) remedies both under- and over-specification for a plane. Indeed, the conditions are now exactly tailored to make the structure a finite plane (with some parallel lines in the first of the three cases).

Let $\Sigma$ be a set of $\nu\neq 0$ ‘points’, say $\{\Lambda_{1},\Lambda_{2},\dots\Lambda_{\nu}\}$, and let $L_{1}$, $L_{2}$, … $L_{n}$ be $n$ subsets of $\Sigma$ (‘lines’) such that for any two points there is a unique $L_{i}$ that contains them both. We must now be careful about the points (the former lines) being “different” (this was easier to formulate in the previous version, in which form it was a simple incidence structure): this condition now takes the form that no two points must have the same collection of lines that are incident   with them. Then $n\geqslant\nu$, and if $n=\nu$ then (up to renumbering) at least one of the following three must be true:

• $L_{i}=\{\Lambda_{i}\}$ for $i\neq n$, and $L_{n}=\{\Lambda_{1},\Lambda_{2},\dots\Lambda_{n}\}$

• $L_{i}=\{\Lambda_{i},\Lambda_{n}\}$ for $i\neq n$, and $L_{n}=\{\Lambda_{1},\Lambda_{2}\Lambda_{n-1}\}$

• $n$ is of the form $q^{2}+q+1$, each $L_{i}$ contains $q+1$ points, and each point is contained in $q+1$ of the $L_{i}$

For a proof of the theorem (in the former version) see e.g. Cameron [Cam94].

## References

• 1
• Cam94 Peter J. Cameron, Combinatorics: topics, techniques, algorithms,
Camb. Univ. Pr. 1994, ISBN  0 521 45761 0
http://www.maths.qmul.ac.uk/ pjc/comb/http://www.maths.qmul.ac.uk/ pjc/comb/
(solutions, errata &c.)
Title De Bruijn–Erdős theorem DeBruijnErdHosTheorem 2013-03-22 15:11:21 2013-03-22 15:11:21 marijke (8873) marijke (8873) 7 marijke (8873) Theorem msc 05B25 FiniteProjectivePlane4 IncidenceStructures Geometry  LinearSpace2