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This isn't really a GCD question, because GCD is only defined for integers. I'm interested in the the existence of a common divisor of any two non-zero real numbers. In other words can you prove or disprove the following:

Given $x,y \neq 0\in \mathbb{R}, \exists \space g \space s.t. \space x/g \in \mathbb{Z}$ and $y/g \in \mathbb{Z}$.

(I hope my math is understandable, haven't done this in awhile). It's clearly possible for many numbers, including irrational ones (e.g. for multiples of $\pi$, $g = \pi$). Is it possible for all real numbers?

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If $x/g=m$, and $y/g=n$, then $x/y=m/n$. – Chris Eagle Mar 20 '12 at 0:17
For this to exist for all reals, it would require that the ratio of two rational numbers can be expressed as the ratio of two integers, which is a rational number. – Peter Grill Mar 20 '12 at 0:21
Yeah, what @ChrisEagle said. – Peter Grill Mar 20 '12 at 0:22
@PeterGrill In your first comment, I think you mean "the ratio of two real numbers". – Alex Becker Mar 20 '12 at 0:24
@AlexBecker: I actually meant to say "ratio of two irrational numbers" as that was the example I was thinking about, but real is even better as your answer has shown. – Peter Grill Mar 20 '12 at 0:28
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The following conditions are equivalent for nonzero reals $x,y$

  1. There is a real $g$ such that $x/g$ and $y/g$ are integers
  2. The quotient $x/y$ is rational


$1 \implies 2$: Since quotient of integers is rational, your condition implies that

$(x/g) / (y/g) \in \mathbb{Q}$

after clearing $g$ in denominators

$x/y \in \mathbb{Q}$.

$2 \implies 1$:

If $x/y$ is rational: $x/y=p/q$ then define $g = y/q$ (or $g = x/p$), then $x/g = xq/y = p$ and $y/g = q$ are integers. QED

So any pair of reals with irrational quotient is a counterexample, for example $x=1$ and $y=\sqrt{2}$.

Real numbers $x,y$ with rational quotient are known as commensurable. This is how irrationality was formulated in the ancient times. It has been said that diagonal of a square is not commensurable with its side.

The Euclidean algorithm for finding GCD was originally formulated on segments (reals) - it found a common measure ($g$) given segments of length $x$ and $y$.

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Great answer, just a small addition: There is an "algorithm" for finding the GCD of two commensurate real numbers, $gcd(a,b) = a ~ f(b / a)$, where $f$ is Thomae's function. – A. Donda Aug 4 '14 at 15:51

The statement is not true. Consider $x=1,y=\pi$. If $y/g=n\in\mathbb Z$, then $g=\pi/n$ so $x/g=n/\pi\notin \mathbb Z$.

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