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Section4.3Cyclic Groups of Complex Numbers

The complex numbers are defined as

\begin{equation*} {\mathbb C} = \{ a + bi : a, b \in {\mathbb R} \}, \end{equation*}

where \(i^2 = -1\text{.}\) If \(z = a + bi\text{,}\) then \(a\) is the real part of \(z\) and \(b\) is the imaginary part of \(z\text{.}\)

To add two complex numbers \(z=a+bi\) and \(w= c+di\text{,}\) we just add the corresponding real and imaginary parts:

\begin{equation*} z + w=(a + bi ) + (c + di) = (a + c) + (b + d)i. \end{equation*}

Remembering that \(i^2 = -1\text{,}\) we multiply complex numbers just like polynomials. The product of \(z\) and \(w\) is

\begin{equation*} (a + bi )(c + di) = ac + bdi^2 + adi + bci = (ac -bd) +(ad + bc)i. \end{equation*}

Every nonzero complex number \(z = a +bi\) has a multiplicative inverse; that is, there exists a \(z^{-1} \in {\mathbb C}^\ast\) such that \(z z^{-1} = z^{-1} z = 1\text{.}\) If \(z = a + bi\text{,}\) then

\begin{equation*} z^{-1} = \frac{a-bi}{ a^2 + b^2 }. \end{equation*}

The complex conjugate of a complex number \(z = a + bi\) is defined to be \(\overline{z} = a- bi\text{.}\) The absolute value or modulus of \(z = a + bi\) is \(|z| = \sqrt{a^2 + b^2}\text{.}\)

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Figure4.3.2Rectangular coordinates of a complex number

There are several ways of graphically representing complex numbers. We can represent a complex number \(z = a +bi\) as an ordered pair on the \(xy\) plane where \(a\) is the \(x\) (or real) coordinate and \(b\) is the \(y\) (or imaginary) coordinate. This is called the rectangular or Cartesian representation. The rectangular representations of \(z_1 = 2 + 3i\text{,}\) \(z_2 = 1 - 2i\text{,}\) and \(z_3 = - 3 + 2i\) are depicted in Figure Figure 4.3.2.

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Figure4.3.3Polar coordinates of a complex number

Nonzero complex numbers can also be represented using polar coordinates. To specify any nonzero point on the plane, it suffices to give an angle \(\theta\) from the positive \(x\) axis in the counterclockwise direction and a distance \(r\) from the origin, as in Figure Figure 4.3.3. We can see that

\begin{equation*} z = a + bi = r( \cos \theta + i \sin \theta). \end{equation*}


\begin{equation*} r = |z| = \sqrt{a^2 + b^2} \end{equation*}


\begin{align*} a & = r \cos \theta\\ b & = r \sin \theta. \end{align*}

We sometimes abbreviate \(r( \cos \theta + i \sin \theta)\) as \(r \cis \theta\text{.}\) To assure that the representation of \(z\) is well-defined, we also require that \(0^{\circ} \leq \theta \lt 360^{\circ}\text{.}\) If the measurement is in radians, then \(0 \leq \theta \lt2 \pi\text{.}\)

The polar representation of a complex number makes it easy to find products and powers of complex numbers. The proof of the following proposition is straightforward and is left as an exercise.


The multiplicative group of the complex numbers, \({\mathbb C}^*\text{,}\) possesses some interesting subgroups. Whereas \({\mathbb Q}^*\) and \({\mathbb R}^*\) have no interesting subgroups of finite order, \({\mathbb C}^*\) has many. We first consider the circle group,

\begin{equation*} {\mathbb T} = \{ z \in {\mathbb C} : |z| = 1 \}. \end{equation*}

The following proposition is a direct result of Proposition Proposition 4.3.5.

Although the circle group has infinite order, it has many interesting finite subgroups. Suppose that \(H = \{ 1, -1, i, -i \}\text{.}\) Then \(H\) is a subgroup of the circle group. Also, \(1\text{,}\) \(-1\text{,}\) \(i\text{,}\) and \(-i\) are exactly those complex numbers that satisfy the equation \(z^4 = 1\text{.}\) The complex numbers satisfying the equation \(z^n=1\) are called the \(n\)th roots of unity.


A generator for the group of the \(n\)th roots of unity is called a primitive \(n\)th root of unity.

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Figure4.3.128th roots of unity