I am looking for a set $X$ and distance metric $d(x,y)$ which has

  • $d(x,x)=0$ for all $x$
  • (Positive) $d(x,y)>0$ for all $x \ne y$
  • (Symmetric) $d(x,y)=d(y,x)$ for all $x,y$

But not

  • (Triangle inequality) For all $(x,y,z) \in X, d(x,z) \leq d(x,y) + d(y,z)$.

I tried some small discrete sets with simple distance rules but no luck so far.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This may be overkill, but I do believe the $L^p$ spaces for $0 < p < 1$ do not have the triangle inequality. Here, the metric is induced by the usual norm on this space. That is, $d(f, g) = ||f - g||_p$. $\endgroup$ – Nicholas Roberts Sep 23 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ If you really mean strict inequality then this can be seen from just regular Euclidean distance by taking three points in a line (with $y$ being between $x$ and $z$). $\endgroup$ – Erick Wong Sep 23 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ @ErickWong I don't understand. Euclidean distances over $(1,10, 50)$ doesn't violate the triangle inequality, does it? $\endgroup$ – Hatshepsut Sep 23 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Hatshepsut It depends on whether you made a typo. The triangle inequality is indeed true for those distances, but what you wrote down is not the triangle inequality ($<$ vs $\le$). That can also be fairly called a “triangle” inequality since it can detect whether three points form a triangle (rather than lying in a line). $\endgroup$ – Erick Wong Sep 23 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ErickWong Ah, yes that was a typo, fixed now. $\endgroup$ – Hatshepsut Sep 23 at 4:05

I think you may take $X =\{a,b,c\}$ with

$$d(a,b)=3, d(b,c)=1, d(c,a)=1$$

and complete the remaining distances by $d(x,x)=0$ and $d(x,y)=d(y,x)$. This satisfies your properties, but

$$d(a,b) > d(a,c) + d(c,b)$$


By definition, a metric will satisfy the triangle inequality. What you are looking for is a semimetric.

It is easy to see that, for $p\in(0,1)$ the function $d\colon\mathbb{R}^n\times\mathbb{R}^n \to [0,\infty)$ defined as $$ d(x,y) = \lVert x-y\rVert_p = \left( \sum_{i=1}^n |x_i-y_i|^p \right)^{1/p} $$ is indeed a semimetric. (The triangle inequality is only satisfied for $p\geq 1$, for which $\lVert \cdot \rVert_p$ is a bona fide norm.)

  • $\begingroup$ I always thought a semimetric was one where $d(x,y)=0$ did not imply $x=y$. This way, a seminorm induces a semimetric. $\endgroup$ – Theoretical Economist Sep 23 at 4:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It would make sense, I agree, @TheoreticalEconomist. (Unfortunately, it does not...) $\endgroup$ – Clement C. Sep 23 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ Now I know why I thought this: I actually learned it from a textbook. Which is a little odd, since the aforementioned book was otherwise pretty forthcoming when their notation / terminology is non-standard. TIL. $\endgroup$ – Theoretical Economist Sep 23 at 8:27

Let $\ X\ :=\ \mathbb R\ $ be the set of all reals. Define:

$$ \forall_{k\ n\in\mathbb Z}\quad \delta(k\ n)\ :=\ (k-n)^2 $$

Your axioms are satisfied for $\ \delta,\ $ while

$$ \delta(k\ m)+\delta(m\ n)\ <\ \delta(k\ n) $$

whenever $\ k<m<n\ $ (for $\ k\ m\ n\in\mathbb R$).

REMARK   Draw the three square of the above inequality ($(k-n)^2,\ $ etc.) and you'll clearly see that indeed the inequality holds.


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