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"Let $G$ be a group, and suppose $G=H \cup K$, where $H$ and $K$ are subgroups. Show that either $H=G$ or $K=G$."

Let $h \in H$ and $k \in K$. Then $hk \in H$ or $hk \in K$ (since every element of $G$ is in either $H$ or $K$). If $hk=h'$ for some $h' \in H$, then $k=h^{-1}h'$, so $k \in H$. If $hk=k'$ for some $k' \in K$, then $h=k'k^{-1}$ so that $h \in K$.

If for all $h \in H$ we have $h \in K$, or if for all $k \in K$ we have $k \in H$, then $H \subseteq K$ or $K \subseteq H$. Then since $G=H \cup K$, we must have either $H=G$ or $K=G$.

I'm not sure if the first paragraph of my 'proof' implies the second. I've shown that for arbitrary $h \in H$, $h \in H$ and possibly $h \in K$, and similar for $k \in K$. I don't know how to wrap it up (or perhaps this route won't lead anywhere at all).

If this way won't work, I'd just like a hint on a new direction to take.


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The problem with trying to go from the first paragraph to the second is that you know that $hk\in H$ or $hk\in K$ for every $h\in H$ and $k\in K$, but you cannot distribute this "for every" across the logical disjunctive (the "or"); that is, $$\forall h\in H,k\in K: (hk\in H\vee hk\in K)$$ does not logically entail $$(\forall h\in H,k\in K:hk\in H)\vee(\forall h\in H,k\in K:hk\in K),$$ and it is the latter that creates the premises for your second paragraph. – anon Mar 19 '13 at 3:08
It follows easily from the answers given in this topic. – user26857 Apr 6 '13 at 9:20
@anon , Could you give an example when the first statement is true but the second is false? it's tricky for me, how the first doesn't imply the other ! – Maths Lover Sep 4 '13 at 23:30
@FawzyHegab It seems my $1$st comment makes too strong of a claim. My implicit broader point - that "for all" does not in general distribute over "or" and thus needs to be justified specially in this instance - remains true. Here's a proof of this particular implication: the first statement says that $HK\subseteq H\cup K$. But $H\cup K\subseteq HK$, so $HK=H\cup K$ (suppose true). The second statement is equivalent to "$H\subseteq K$ or $K\subseteq H$"; suppose this is false. If $h\in H-K,k\in K-H$ then wlog $hk=h'\in H$ implies $k=h^{-1}h'\in (K\cap H)\cap(K-H)=\varnothing$, absurd. – anon Sep 6 '13 at 3:49
@FawzyHegab Assume for the sake of argument that all people are either male or female (in reality, humans and organisms in general are too diverse and varied for his to be an uncomplicated universal truth). Then "for all people x, x is male or x is female" is true, but "all people are male or all people are female" is false. – anon Sep 6 '13 at 21:42
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Suppose both $H,K$ are distinct and proper in $G$. Then pick $h\in H\setminus K$ and $k\in K\setminus H$.

In which of $K$ or $H$ or both does $hk$ lie?

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Doesn't $hk$ lie in neither $H$ nor $K$? If it was in one of them, the argument in my second paragraph above would create a contradiction with our choice of $h \in H \setminus K$ and $k \in K \setminus H$. Then $hk \not\in H$ and $hk \not\in K$, so $hk \not\in H \cup K$, so that $G \ne H \cup K$, and we have proved the contrapositive. – Alex Petzke Mar 19 '13 at 21:11
@AlexPetzke Exactly. – anon Mar 19 '13 at 21:15
Good, thank you. – Alex Petzke Mar 19 '13 at 21:45

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