Definition:Euclid's Definitions

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These definitions appear at the beginning of the various Books of Euclid's The Elements.


Book I

These definitions appear at the start of Book I of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. A point is that which has no part.
  2. A line is breadthless length.
  3. The extremities of a line are points.
  4. A straight line is a line which lies evenly with the points on itself.
  5. A surface is that which has length and breadth only.
  6. The extremities of a surface are lines.
  7. A plane surface is a surface which lies evenly with the straight lines on itself.
  8. A plane angle is the inclination to one another of two lines in a plane which meet one another and do not lie in a straight line.
  9. And when the lines containing the angle are straight, the angle is called rectilineal.
  10. When a straight line set up on a straight line makes the adjacent angles equal to one another, each of the equal angles is right, and the straight line standing on the other is called a perpendicular to that on which it stands.
  11. An obtuse angle is an angle greater than a right angle.
  12. An acute angle is an angle less than a right angle.
  13. A boundary is that which is an extremity of anything.
  14. A figure is that which is contained by any boundary or boundaries.
  15. A circle is a plane figure contained by one line such that all the straight lines falling upon it from one point among those lying within the figure are equal to one another;
  16. And the point is called the center of the circle.
  17. A diameter of the circle is any straight line drawn through the center and terminated in both directions by the circumference of the circle, and such a straight line also bisects the center.
  18. A semicircle is the figure contained by the diameter and the circumference cut off by it. And the center of the semicircle is the same as that of the circle.
  19. Rectilineal figures are those which are contained by straight lines, trilateral figures being those contained by three, quadrilateral those contained by four, and multi-lateral those contained by more than four straight lines.
  20. Of trilateral figures, an equilateral triangle is that which has its three sides equal, an isosceles triangle that which has two of its sides alone equal, and a scalene triangle that which has its three sides unequal.
  21. Further, of trilateral figures, a right-angled triangle is that which has a right angle, an obtuse-angled triangle that which has an obtuse angle, and an acute-angled triangle that which has its three angles acute.
  22. Of quadrilateral figures, a square is that which is both equilateral and right-angled; an oblong that which is right-angled but not equilateral; a rhombus that which is equilateral but not right-angled; and a rhomboid that which has its opposite sides equal to one another but is neither equilateral nor right-angled. And let quadrilaterals other than these be called trapezia.
  23. Parallel straight lines are straight lines which, being in the same plane and being produced indefinitely in either direction, do not meet one another in either direction.


Book II

These definitions appear at the start of Book II of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. Any rectangular parallelogram is said to be contained by the two straight lines containing the right angle.
  2. And in any parallelogrammic area let any one whatever of the parallelograms about its diameter with the two complements be called a gnomon.


Book III

These definitions appear at the start of Book III of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. Equal circles are those the diameters of which are equal, or the radii of which are equal.
  2. A straight line is said to touch a circle which, meeting the circle and being produced, does not cut the circle.
  3. Circles are said to touch one another which, meeting one another, do not cut one another.
  4. In a circle straight lines are said to be equally distant from the center when the perpendiculars drawn to them from the center are equal.
  5. And that straight line is said to be at a greater distance on which the greater perpendicular falls.
  6. A segment of a circle is the figure contained by a straight line and a circumference of a circle.
  7. An angle of a segment is that contained by a straight line and a circumference of a circle.
  8. An angle in a segment is the angle which, when a point is taken on the circumference of the segment and straight lines are joined from it to the extremities of the straight line which is the base of the segment, is contained by the straight lines so joined.
  9. And, when the straight lines containing the angle cut off a circumference, the angle is said to stand upon that circumference.
  10. A sector of a circle is the figure which, when an angle is constructed at the center of the circle, is contained by the straight lines containing the angle and the circumference cut off by them.
  11. Similar segments of circles are those which admit equal angles, or in which the angles are equal to one another.


Book IV

These definitions appear at the start of Book IV of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. A rectilineal figure is said to be inscribed in a rectilineal figure when the respective angles of the inscribed figure lie on the respective sides of that in which it is inscribed.
  2. Similarly a figure is said to be circumscribed about a figure when the respective sides of the circumscribed figure pass through the respective angles of that about which it is circumscribed.
  3. A rectilineal figure is said to be inscribed in a circle when each angle of the inscribed figure lies on the circumference of the circle.
  4. A rectilineal figure is said to be circumscribed about a circle, when each side of the circumscribed figure touches the circumference of the circle.
  5. Similarly a circle is said to be inscribed in a figure when the circumference of the circle touches each side of the figure in which it is inscribed.
  6. A circle is said to be circumscribed about a figure when the circumference of the circle passes through each angle of the figure about which it is circumscribed.
  7. A straight line is said to be fitted into a circle when its extremities are on the circumference of the circle.


Book V

These definitions appear at the start of Book V of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. A magnitude is a part of a magnitude, the less of the greater, when it measures the greater.
  2. The greater is a multiple of the less when it is measured by the less.
  3. A ratio is a sort of relation in respect of size between two magnitudes of the same kind.
  4. Magnitudes are said to have a ratio to one another which are capable, when multiplied, of exceeding one another.
  5. Magnitudes are said to be in the same ratio, the first to the second and the third to the fourth, when, if any equimultiples whatever be taken of the first and third, and any equimultiples whatever of the second and fourth, the former equimultiples alike exceed, are alike equal to, or alike fall short of, the latter equimultiples respectively taken in corresponding order.
  6. Let magnitudes which have the same ratio be called proportional.
  7. When, of the equimultiples, the multiple of the first magnitude exceeds the multiple of the second magnitude, but the multiple of the third magnitude does not exceed the multiple of the fourth, then the first is said to have a greater ratio to the second than the third has to the fourth.
  8. A proportion in three terms is the least possible.
  9. When three magnitudes are proportional, the first is said to have to the third the duplicate ratio of that which it has to the second.
  10. When four magnitudes are continuously proportional, the first is said to have to the fourth the triplicate ratio of that which it has to the second, and so on continually, whatever be the proportion.
  11. The term corresponding magnitudes is used of antecedents in relation to antecedents, and of consequents in relation to consequents.
  12. Alternate ratio means taking the antecedent in relation to the antecedent and the consequent in relation to the consequent.
  13. Inverse ratio means taking the consequent as antecedent in relation to the antecedent as consequent.
  14. Composition of a ratio means taking the antecedent together with the consequent as one in relation to the consequent by itself.
  15. Separation of a ratio means taking the excess by which the antecedent exceeds the consequent in relation to the consequent by itself.
  16. Conversion of a ratio means taking the antecedent in relation to the excess by which the antecedent exceeds the consequent.
  17. A ratio ex aequali arises when, there being several magnitudes and another set equal to them in multitude which makes two and two are in the same proportion, as the first is to the last among the first magnitudes, so is the first to the last among the second magnitudes;
    Or, in other words, it means taking the extreme terms by virtue of the removal of the intermediate terms.
  18. A perturbed proportion arises when, there being three magnitudes and another set equal to them in multitude, as antecedent is to consequent among the first magnitudes, so is antecedent to consequent among the second magnitudes, while, as the consequent is to a third among the first magnitudes, so is a third to the antecedent among the second magnitudes.


Book VI

These definitions appear at the start of Book VI of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. Similar rectilineal figures are such as have their angles severally equal and the sides about the equal angles proportional.
  2. Two figures are reciprocally related when there are in each of the two figures antecedent and consequent ratios.
  3. A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the less.
  4. The height of any figure is the perpendicular drawn from the vertex to the base.


Book VII

These definitions appear at the start of Book VII of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. A unit is that of which each of the things that exist is called one.
  2. A number is a multitude composed of units.
  3. A number is a part of a number, the less of the greater, when it measures the greater;
  4. but parts when it does not measure it.
  5. The greater number is a multiple of the less when it is measured by the less.
  6. An even number is that which is divisible into two equal parts.
  7. An odd number is that which is not divisible into two equal parts, or that which differs by a unit from an even number.
  8. An even-times even number is that which is measured by an even number according to an even number.
  9. An even-times odd number is that which is measured by an even number according to an odd number.
  10. An odd-times odd number is that which is measured by an odd number according to an odd number.
  11. A prime number is that which is measured by a unit alone.
  12. Numbers prime to one another are those which are measured by a unit alone as a common measure.
  13. A composite number is that which is measured by some number.
  14. Numbers composite to one another are those which are measured by some number as a common measure.
  15. A number is said to multiply a number when that which is multiplied is added to itself as many times as there are units in the other, and thus some number is produced.
  16. And, when two numbers having multiplied one another make some number, the number so produced is called plane, and its sides are the numbers which have multiplied one another.
  17. And, when three numbers having multiplied one another make some number, the number so produced is solid, and its sides are the numbers which have multiplied one another.
  18. A square number is equal multiplied by equal, or a number which is contained by two equal number.
  19. And a cube is equal multiplied by equal and again by equal, or a number which is contained by three equal numbers.
  20. Numbers are proportional when the first is the same multiple, or the same part, or the same parts, of the second that the third is of the fourth.
  21. Similar plane and solid numbers are those which have their sides proportional.
  22. A perfect number is that which is equal to the sum its own parts.


Books VIII and IX

  • Books VIII and IX do not contain definitions.


Book X

These definitions appear at the start of Book X of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. Those magnitudes are said to be commensurable which are measured by the same measure, and those incommensurable which cannot have any common measure.
  2. Straight lines are commensurable in square when the squares on them are measured by the same area, and incommensurable in square when the squares on them cannot possibly have any area as a common measure.
  3. With these hypotheses, it is proved that there exist straight lines infinite in multitude which are commensurable and incommensurable respectively, some on length only, and others in square also, with an assigned straight line. Let then the assigned straight line be called rational, and those straight lines which are commensurable with it, whether in length and in square or square only, rational, but those which are incommensurable with it irrational.
  4. And let the square on the assigned straight line be called rational and those areas which are commensurable with it rational, but those which are incommensurable with it irrational, and the straight lines which produce them irrational, that is, in case the areas are squares, the sides themselves, but in case they are any other rectilineal figures, the straight lines on which are described squares equal to them.


Book X (II)

Definitions II
These definitions appear between Propositions 47 and 48 of Book X of The Elements by Euclid.
  1. Given a rational straight line and a binomial, divided into its terms, such that the square on the greater term is greater than the term on the lesser by the square on a straight line commensurable in length with the greater, then, if the greater term be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, let the whole be called a first binomial straight line;
  2. but if the lesser term be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, let the whole be called a second binomial;
  3. and if neither of the terms be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, let the whole be called a third binomial.
  4. Again, if the square on the greater term be greater than the square on the lesser by the square on a straight line incommensurable in length with the greater, then, if the greater term be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, let the whole be called a fourth binomial;
  5. if the lesser, a fifth binomial;
  6. and if neither, a sixth binomial.


Book X (III)

Definitions III
These definitions appear between Propositions 84 and 85 of Book X of The Elements by Euclid.
  1. Given a rational straight line and an apotome, if the square on the whole be greater than the square on the annex by the square on a straight line commensurable in length with the whole, and the whole be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, let the apotome be called a first apotome.
  2. But if the annex be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, and the square on the whole be greater than that on the annex by the square on a straight line commensurable in length with the whole, let the apotome be called a second apotome.
  3. But if neither be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, and the square on the whole be greater than the square on the annex by the square on a straight line commensurable with the whole, let the apotome be called a third apotome.
  4. Again, if the square on the whole be greater than the square on the annex by the square on a straight line incommensurable with the whole, then, if the whole be commensurable in length with the rational straight line set out, let the apotome be called a fourth apotome;
  5. if the annex be so commensurable, a fifth;
  6. and if neither, a sixth.


Book XI

These definitions appear at the start of Book XI of The Elements by Euclid.

  1. A solid is that which has length, breadth, and depth.
  2. An extremity of a solid is a surface.
  3. A straight line is at right angles to a plane when it makes right angles with all the straight lines which meet it and are in the plane.
  4. A plane is at right angles to a plane when the straight lines drawn, in one of the planes, at right angles to the common section of the planes are at right angles to the remaining plane.
  5. The inclination of a straight line to a plane is, assuming a perpendicular drawn from the extremity of the straight line which is elevated above the plane to the plane, and a straight line joined from the point thus arising to the extremity of the straight line which is in the plane, the angle contained by the straight line so drawn and the straight line standing up.
  6. The inclination of a plane to a plane is the acute angle contained by the straight lines drawn at right angles to the common section at the same point, one in each of the planes.
  7. A plane is said to be similarly inclined to a plane as another is to another when the said angles of the inclinations are equal to one another.
  8. Parallel planes are those which do not meet.
  9. Similar solid figures are those contained by similar planes equal in multitude.
  10. Equal and similar solid figures are those contained by similar planes equal in multitude and in magnitude.
  11. A solid angle is the inclination constituted by more than two lines which meet one another and are not in the same surface and are constructed to one point.
  12. A pyramid is a solid figure, contained by planes, which is constructed from one plane to one point.
  13. A prism is a solid figure contained by planes of which, namely those which are opposite, are equal, similar and parallel, while the rest are parallelograms.
  14. When, the diameter of a semicircle remaining fixed, the semicircle is carried round and restored again to the same position from which it began to be moved, the figure so comprehended is a sphere.
  15. The axis of the sphere is the straight line which remains fixed about which the semicircle is turned.
  16. The center of the sphere is the same as that of the semicircle.
  17. A diameter of the sphere is any straight line drawn through the center and terminated in both directions by the surface of the sphere.
  18. When, one side of those about the right angle in a right-angled triangle remaining fixed, the triangle is carried round and restored again to the same position from which it began to be moved, the figure so comprehended is a cone.
    And, if the straight line which remains fixed be equal to the remaining side about the right angle which is carried round, the cone will be right-angled; if less, obtuse-angled; and if greater, acute-angled.
  19. The axis of the cone is the straight line which remains fixed and about which the triangle is turned.
  20. And the base is the circle described by the straight line which is carried round.
  21. When, one side of those about the right angle in a rectangular parallelogram remaining fixed, the parallelogram is carried round and restored again to the same position from which it began to be moved, the figure so comprehended is a cylinder.
  22. The axis of the cylinder is the straight line which remains fixed and about which the parallelogram is turned.
  23. And the bases are the circles described by the two sides opposite to one another which are carried round.
  24. Similar cones and cylinders are those in which the axes and the diameters of the bases are proportional.
  25. A cube is a solid figure contained by six equal squares.
  26. An octahedron is a solid figure contained by eight equal and equilateral triangles.
  27. An icosahedron is a solid figure contained by twenty equal and equilateral triangles.
  28. A dodecahedron is a solid figure contained by twelve equal and equilateral, and equiangular pentagons.


Books XII and XIII

  • Books XII and XIII do not contain definitions.