A vector is formally defined as an element of a vector space. In the commonly encountered vector space R^n (i.e., Euclidean n-space), a vector is given by n coordinates and can be specified as (A_1,A_2,...,A_n). Vectors are sometimes referred to by the number of coordinates they have, so a 2-dimensional vector (x_1,x_2) is often called a two-vector, an n-dimensional vector is often called an n-vector, and so on.

Vectors can be added together (vector addition), subtracted (vector subtraction) and multiplied by scalars (scalar multiplication). Vector multiplication is not uniquely defined, but a number of different types of products, such as the dot product, cross product, and tensor direct product can be defined for pairs of vectors.

A vector from a point A to a point B is denoted AB^->, and a vector v may be denoted v^->, or more commonly, v. The point A is often called the "tail" of the vector, and B is called the vector's "head." A vector with unit length is called a unit vector and is denoted using a hat, v^^.

When written out componentwise, the notation x generally refers to x=(x_1,x_2,...). On the other hand, when written with a subscript, the notation x_1 (or v_1) generally refers to x_1=(x_1,y_1,z_1,...).

An arbitrary vector may be converted to a unit vector by dividing by its norm (i.e., length; i.e., magnitude),




A zero vector, denoted 0, is a vector of length 0, and thus has all components equal to zero.

Since vectors remain unchanged under translation, it is often convenient to consider the tail A as located at the origin when, for example, defining vector addition and scalar multiplication.

A vector may also be defined as a set of n numbers A_a, ..., A_n that transform according to the rule


where Einstein summation notation has been used,


are constants (corresponding to the direction cosines), with partial derivatives taken with respect to the original and transformed coordinate axes, and i,j=1, ..., n (Arfken 1985, p. 10). This makes a vector a tensor of tensor rank one. A vector with n components in called an n-vector, and a scalar may therefore be thought of as a 1-vector (or a 0-tensor rank tensor). Vectors are invariant under translation, and they reverse sign upon inversion. Objects that resemble vectors but do not reverse sign upon inversion are known as pseudovectors. To distinguish vectors from pseudovectors, the former are sometimes called polar vectors.

A vector is represented in the Wolfram Language as a list of numbers {a1, a2, ..., an}. Vector addition is then simply written using a plus sign, e.g., {a1, a2, ..., an}+{b1, b2, ..., bn }, and scalar multiplication is indicated by placing a scalar next to a vector (with or without an optional asterisk), s{a1, a2, ..., an}.

Let n^^ be the unit vector defined in spherical coordinates by

 n^^=[costhetasinphi; sinthetasinphi; cosphi].

Then the average value of the x-component of the n^^ over the surface of the unit sphere is given by


More generally,


for i=x, y, or z (indexed as 1, 2, 3), and


Given vectors a, b, c, d, the average values of a number of quantities over the unit sphere are given by




where delta_(ij) is the Kronecker delta, a·b is a dot product, and Einstein summation has been used.

A map f:R^n|->R^n that assigns each x a vector function f(x) is called a vector field.

See also

Column Vector, Contravariant Vector, Covariant Vector, Direction, Four-Vector, Head, Helmholtz's Theorem, List, n-Tuple, n-Vector, Null Vector, One-Form, Phasor, Polar Vector, Pseudovector, Row Vector, Scalar, Tail, Tensor, Unit Vector, Vector Addition, Vector Basis, Vector Bundle, Vector Difference, Vector Field, Vector Function, Vector Magnitude, Vector Norm, Vector Space, Vector Subtraction, Vector Sum, Zero Vector Explore this topic in the MathWorld classroom

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Arfken, G. "Vector Analysis." Ch. 1 in Mathematical Methods for Physicists, 3rd ed. Orlando, FL: Academic Press, pp. 1-84, 1985.Aris, R. Vectors, Tensors, and the Basic Equations of Fluid Mechanics. New York: Dover, 1989.Crowe, M. J. A History of Vector Analysis: The Evolution of the Idea of a Vectorial System. New York: Dover, 1985.Gibbs, J. W. and Wilson, E. B. Vector Analysis: A Text-Book for the Use of Students of Mathematics and Physics, Founded upon the Lectures of J. Willard Gibbs. New York: Dover, 1960.Jeffreys, H. and Jeffreys, B. S. "Scalars and Vectors." Ch. 2 in Methods of Mathematical Physics, 3rd ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, pp. 56-85, 1988.Marsden, J. E. and Tromba, A. J. Vector Calculus, 4th ed. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1996.Morse, P. M. and Feshbach, H. "Vector and Tensor Formalism." §1.5 in Methods of Theoretical Physics, Part I. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 44-54, 1953.Schey, H. M. Div, Grad, Curl, and All That: An Informal Text on Vector Calculus. New York: Norton, 1973.Schwartz, M.; Green, S.; and Rutledge, W. A. Vector Analysis with Applications to Geometry and Physics. New York: Harper Brothers, 1960.Spiegel, M. R. Schaum's Outline of Theory and Problems of Vector Analysis and an Introduction to Tensor Analysis. New York: Schaum, 1959.Weisstein, E. W. "Books about Vectors.", S. A New Kind of Science. Champaign, IL: Wolfram Media, p. 1168, 2002.

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Cite this as:

Weisstein, Eric W. "Vector." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource.

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