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According to Sylow's theorem, every finite group with order divisible by $p^k$ for some prime $p$ has a subgroup of order $p^k$. Is this the best possible result in this direction? That is, if $n$ is not a power of a prime, does there always exist a group with order divisible by $n$ that does not have a subgroup of order $n$?

EDIT: Just to clarify, I am aware that groups like this exist. The standard example seems to be $A_4$, which has order divisible by $6$ but no subgroup of order $6$. What I am looking for is a proof that a counterexample exists for any $n$ that is not a power of a prime.

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I think this question showed up before. The standard counterexample is $A_4$ that has no subgroup of order $6$. – ego Feb 28 '12 at 9:28
@m. k.: Also, maybe you should read about Hall subgroups: – Dennis Gulko Feb 28 '12 at 9:52
ego and Alex: you haven't read the question! I would guess that the answer is yes, but proving it might not be easy. – Derek Holt Feb 28 '12 at 9:58
I think this is not a duplicate. OP is asking about existence of a group for each $n$, such that $n$ divides the order of the group but, there is no subgroup of order $n$. Well, I am sure a general infinite family is not possible but, there might be a reasonable answer. Further, what Dennis suggests will answer the converse of the question. Hall subgroups in Solvable groups. – user21436 Feb 28 '12 at 10:01
BTW, I am interested in an answer too. +1 and a star! :-) – user21436 Feb 28 '12 at 10:02
up vote 26 down vote accepted

Here is a proof that the answer is yes. Suppose first that $n = p^aq^b$ with $p,q$ prime, $a,b>0$, and suppose that $p^a > q^b$. Let $c$ be minimal such that $p^a$ divides $q^c-1$ - so clearly $c > b$. Then a faithful irreducible module for the cyclic group of order $p^a$ over the field of order $q$ has dimension $c$. (You can define the action explicitly as multiplication by an element $x$ in the field of order $q^c$, where $x$ has multiplicative order $p^a$.)

Now let $G = Q \rtimes P$ be the semidirect product of an elementary abelian group $Q$ of order $q^c$ by a cyclic group $P$ of order $p^a$, using this module action. So $Q$ is the unique minimal normal subgroup of $G$. A subgroup of $G$ of order $p^aq^b$ would have a normal subgroup of order $q^b$ which would also be normal in $Q$ and hence normal in $G$, contradiction, so there is no such subgroup.

For the general case, let $n = p^aq^br$ where $r$ is coprime to $p$ and $q$. Then a direct product of $G$, as constructed above, with a cyclic group of order $r$ has no subgroup of order $n$.

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Nice! Thank you for this elegant proof. Also, thanks to m.k. for a nice question. – William DeMeo Feb 28 '12 at 11:53
Derek, I see this interesting post. Why is there always $c$ such that $p^a$ divides $q^c-1$? – Nov 17 '14 at 10:27

Good question! And, you might also look at research on the following: a CLT (Converse Lagrange Theorem) group is a finite group with the property that for every divisor of the order of the group, there is a subgroup of that order. It is known that a CLT group must be solvable and that every supersolvable group is a CLT group: however solvable groups exist, which are not CLT and CLT groups which are not supersolvable.

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I don't know if you are familiar with Hall's theorem which gives a further partial answer to your question.

A Hall-subgroup $H$ in $G$ with regard to a set of primes $\Pi$ has the property that the index of $|G:H|$ is coprime to every element in $\Pi$.

Hall's theorem states that for solvable groups Hall-subgroups exist for every set of primes. Furthermore for a given set of primes two Hall-subgroups are conjugate.

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