Characterizing Word Problems of Groups

  • Sam A. M. Jones
  • Richard M. ThomasEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9899)


The word problem of a finitely generated group is a fundamental notion in group theory; it can be defined as the set of all the words in the generators of the group that represent the identity element of the group. This definition allows us to consider a word problem as a formal language and a rich topic of research concerns the connection between the complexity of this language and the algebraic structure of the corresponding group.

Another interesting problem is that of characterizing which languages are word problems of groups. There is a known necessary and sufficient criterion for a language to be a word problem of a group; however a natural question is what other characterizations there are. In this paper we investigate this question, using sentences expressed in first-order logic where the relations we consider are membership of the language in question and concatenation of words. We choose some natural conditions that apply to word problems and then characterize which sets of these conditions are sufficient to guarantee that the language in question really is the word problem of a group. We finish by investigating the decidability of these conditions for the families of regular and one-counter languages.


Word Problem Identity Element Formal Language Regular Language Fundamental Notion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The supportive comments from the referees and their suggestions about the presentation of the material were very welcome; we are grateful to them for their careful reading of the paper.

This paper was completed whilst the second author was on study leave from the University of Leicester and he would like to acknowledge the help and support of the university in this respect. The second author would also like to thank Hilary Craig for all her help and encouragement.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Mathematics and Computer ScienceUniversity of WolverhamptonWolverhamptonUK
  2. 2.Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK

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