Is the following proposition true? Is there a simple proof?

Let $f: \mathbb{R}^n \rightarrow \mathbb{R}$ be a twice continuously differentiable function. If there exists $M$ such that $||\nabla^2 f(x)||_2 \leq M$ for all $x$ then $$ \forall x, y \in \mathbb{R}^n: \quad ||\nabla f(x) - \nabla f(y)||_2 \leq M ||x - y||_2 $$


I believe I was able to prove it. Please tell me if I am wrong here, and where. First, we remember that any real symmetric matrix $H$ is diagonalizable $H = P^T \Lambda P$, and therefore: $$ u^T H u = (P u)^T \Lambda (P u) \leq \lambda_H ||P u||^2 = \lambda_H ||u||^2 $$ where $$\lambda_H = \max_{i = 1, \dots, n} \{ |\lambda_1(H)|, \dots, |\lambda_n(H)| \}$$ Also, since $||H||_2^2 = \lambda_{max}(H^T H)$ and we know that $H^T H = P^T \Lambda^2 P$, then we also know that $||H||_2 = \lambda_H$ and therefore: $$ u^T H u \leq ||H||_2 ||u||^2 $$

Now, using the multivariate first order Taylor approximation, we have: $$ \begin{aligned} f(x) - f(y) = \nabla f(y)^T (x - y) + 0.5 (y - z)^T \nabla^2 f(z) (y - z) \\ f(y) - f(x) = -\nabla f(x)^T (x - y) + 0.5 (x - w)^T \nabla^2 f(w) (x - w) \end{aligned} $$ where $z \in [x, y]$ and $w \in [x, y]$. Adding both equations, and re-arranging, we have: $$ \begin{aligned} (\nabla f(y) - \nabla f(x))^T(x - y) &= -0.5 (y - z)^T \nabla^2 f(z) (y - z) - 0.5 (x - w)^T \nabla^2 f(w) (x - w) \\ &\geq -0.5 ||\nabla^2 f(z)||_2 ||y - z||^2 - 0.5 ||\nabla^2 f(w)||_2 ||x - w||^2 \\ &\geq -0.5 M ||y - z||^2 - 0.5 M ||x - w||^2 \\ &\geq -M ||x - y||^2 \end{aligned} $$ Using Cauchy-Schwartz we also obtain $$ - ||\nabla f(y) - \nabla f(x)|| \cdot ||y - x|| \geq (\nabla f(y) - \nabla f(x))^T(x - y) \geq -M ||x - y||^2 $$ Dividing both sides by $-||y - x||$ gives the desired result.

  • $\begingroup$ I think this is overkill, there is a simple proof using the mean value theorem along the line between x and y $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2017 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ I thought about it, since this is how a similar result is proved for one dimensional functions. But when I actually tried to do it, I was not able to get the bound with the norm of the Hessian. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Shtof
    Aug 27, 2017 at 16:50

1 Answer 1


Let $X=\nabla^2f(x)$ be the Hessian (this matrix is real symmetric), then

$$||X||_2^2 = \lambda_{max}(X'X)=\lambda_{max}(X^2)=\max\{|\lambda|^2 : \lambda \mbox{ is eigenvalue of } X\}$$

so we have that the bound on the 2-norm of the hessian is equivalent to the bound on the maximum eigenvalue (in absolute value), this is precisely the operator norm i.e.

$$ \lVert Xu \rVert \leq \lVert X \rVert \lVert u \rVert $$

Now consider the function $h_a(t)=a^T \nabla f(x+t(y-x))$. This function satisfies the conditions for the mean value theorem to hold so there exists $t_a \in (0, 1)$ such that

$$ a^T(\nabla f(y) - \nabla f(x)) = \dfrac{h(1)-h(0)}{1-0}=h'(t_a)= a^T \nabla^2 f(x+t_a(y-x))(y-x) = a^T\nabla f^2(z_a)(y-x) $$

And now taking the supremum over $\lVert a \rVert = 1$ on both sides

$$ \lVert \nabla f(y) - \nabla f(x) \rVert \leq \sup_{\lVert a \rVert = 1 } a^T(\nabla f(y) - \nabla f(x)) = \sup_{\lVert a \rVert = 1 } a^T\nabla f^2(z_a)(y-x) \leq M \lVert y - x \rVert $$

where the first inequality comes from taking a particular value for $a$, and the inequality on the right is an application of Cauchy-Schwarz and the hypothesis.

  • $\begingroup$ The only thing I do not understand is why such $t_0$ exists. The function $h$ is vector valued. Thus, for every coordinate there should be a different $t_0$. This was exactly my difficulty when I tried to prove this way. $\endgroup$
    – Alex Shtof
    Aug 28, 2017 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry you were right, that is a common mistake, I have added some corrections, let me know if now it works $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2017 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ So some trickery is required anyway. In my proof the trick is applying the Taylor expansion twice, while in yours it is multiplying by $a^T$ and taking the supremum over $||a|| = 1$. Either way, it is not that simple. Anyway, the proof is very nice, and deserves as "V" :) $\endgroup$
    – Alex Shtof
    Aug 28, 2017 at 12:47

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