# What is the difference between minimum and infimum?

What is the difference between minimum and infimum?

I have a great confusion about this.

## 2 Answers

The minimum is attained, the infimum isn't necessarily.

Example.

Let $f(x) = \frac{1}{x}$. Then $f$ has no minimum value on the interval $(0,\infty)$. The minimum is the smallest element in the set. That is $$\min\{f(x)\mid x\in (0,\infty)\}$$ doesn't exist because there is not smallest number in the set.

Another example is the minimum of the set $S = (0,1) = \{x\mid 0<x<1\}$. Here again there isn't a smallest number $$\min\{x\mid 0<x<1\}$$ doesn't exist.

The infimum of a set $S$ is defined as the greatest number that is less than or equal to all elements of S (from Wikipedia). The infimum is also sometimes called the greatest lower bound.

It is a fact that every non empty set (bounded below) of real numbers has an infimum. But, as we saw, not every real set has a minimum.

So in the example $$\inf\{f(x)\mid x\in (0,\infty)\} = 0.$$

Note that the infimum and the minimum can be the same. Consider for example $S = \{1,2,3,\dots\}$. Then the infimum and minimum is both $1$.

Consider this other example. If $f$ is a continuous function on a closed interval $[a,b]$, then it is a fact that $f$ attains a minimum over that interval. So here again $$\inf\{f(x)\mid x\in [a,b]\} = \min\{f(x)\mid x\in [a,b]\}.$$

• Is it correct to say that the infimum may not belong to the set in consideration, whereas the minimum must belong to it? Mar 14, 2019 at 18:00
• Yes that is correct @YanKingYin
– user496277
Feb 22, 2021 at 6:51
• is it fair to say that distinguishing between inf and min only makes sense for infinite sets? Apr 24, 2021 at 20:57

minimum is reached, infimum (may) not. That is, the numbers of the form $1/n$ have an inf (that is, 0), while the natural numbers have a min (that is, 1).