There exists the genus-degree formula for plane, projective, nonsingular curves that relates the (arithmetic) genus of a curve $C_F$ with the degree of the polynomial $F$ by the following relation:

$$\frac{1}{2} (\deg F - 1)(\deg F - 2) = g(C_F)$$

I know there are a lot of great resources and different ways to proof this. I found the statement in several algebraic geometry or curve theory books (Hartshorne, Milne, Fulton, etc.). My problem is that almost every resource that I have found so far has either only proofed this formula for algebraically closed fields or, if the field was arbitrary, was so scheme-theoretic that I wouldn't even recognise the formula if I saw it.

Two questions:

  1. Is this formula even true if the field is not closed (and/or not perfect)?
  2. If 1. is true, then what is a (citable) reference that states this formula for curves over arbitrary fields?

I will accept an answer that posts nothing but a citable source (maybe including the page) which contains the statement for arbitrary fields.


3 Answers 3


I wouldn't think that this would be likely to be written down in a citable fashion (too easy to make this an exercise). If I'm wrong, my saying so will surely increase the odds that someone will come along, correct me, and give you the answer you actually want. In the meantime, here is the proof: consider the long exact sequence on homology associated to $$0 \to \mathcal{O}_{\Bbb P^2_k}(-d) \to \mathcal{O}_{\Bbb P^2_k} \to \mathcal{O}_{C_F} \to 0.$$ By the calculation of the homology for sheaves of the form $\mathcal{O}_{\Bbb P^n_A}(d)$ for a ring $A$ (see Hartshorne theorem III.5.1, EGA III proposition 2.1.12, or Stacks 01XT) it is immediate to verify that $\dim_k H^0(\mathcal{O}_{C_F})=1$ and $\dim_k H^1(\mathcal{O}_{C_F})=\frac12(d-1)(d-2)$. Since the calculation of the cohomology of the sheaves $\mathcal{O}_{\Bbb P^n_A}(d)$ on $\Bbb P^n_A$ for a ring $A$ is independent of $A$, the result is true for any base field and for a bit broader definition of curve than you write (though you have left out probably the most important adjective here: you curve must be planar, i.e., a closed subscheme of $\Bbb P^2_k$).

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your answer. I will try to see if I can use this somehow, even though it might be too technical for me. $\endgroup$
    – Guenterino
    Jul 23, 2021 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ I found it explicitly stated in Liu's book. $\endgroup$
    – Guenterino
    Jul 24, 2021 at 18:09

The other answers are excellent and I found them very useful. I was going to accept one, but then I found a reference that contained exactly what I was looking for.

Qing Liu's Book Algebraic Geometry and Arithmetic curves in Chapter 7, Example 3.22

The formula is stated over arbitrary fields and explicitly.


Question: "Two questions: Is this formula even true if the field is not closed (and/or not perfect)? If 1. is true, then what is a (citable) reference that states this formula for curves over arbitrary fields? I will accept an answer that posts nothing but a citable source (maybe including the page) which contains the statement for arbitrary fields."

Answer: You also find a discussion of the arithmetic genus for a projective scheme of finite type over any field in Hartshorne, Ex.III.5.3. In ChI Ex.7.2, the arithmetic genus is defined using the Hilbert polynomial. In ChIII it is defined using the Euler characteristic $\chi(\mathcal{O}_X):=\sum_i h^i(X, \mathcal{O}_X)$ and the exercise proves that this equals the definition in ChI. Using the Hilbert polynomial it is not clear that the arithmetic genus is independent of choice of embedding, but the formula


proves independence - the structure sheaf is an intrinsic invariant and does not depende on an embedding.

Note: The constructions of chapter I in Hartshorne are valid over an algebraically closed field $k$. The arithmetic genus $p_a(Y)$ is defined in Ex.I.7.2 for a projective variety $Y \subseteq \mathbb{P}^n_k$, hence $Y$ is by definition irreducible. By definition $p_a(Y):=(-1)^r(P_Y(0)-1)$ where $P_Y(t)$ is the Hilbert polynomial of the graded coordinate ring $S(Y)$ of $Y$ wrto the embedding $Y \subseteq \mathbb{P}^n_k$, hence with this definition it is not clear if $p_a(Y)$ is independent of choice of embedding: The coordinate ring $S(Y)$ is not an invariant of $Y$. In chapter III they give a general definition of the arithmetic genus $p_a(Y)$ for any closed subscheme $Y \subseteq \mathbb{P}^n_k$ over any field. Hence if you study a projective scheme over a non-algebraically closed field you must use the definition in III.Ex.5.3. For a curve $C \subseteq \mathbb{P}^2_k$ you get by definition

$$p_a(C):=1-h^0(C, \mathcal{O}_C)+h^1(C,\mathcal{O}_C),$$

and there are several methods to calculate this. You must somehow calculate $h^i(C,\mathcal{O}_C)$ and you find methods in the chapter on Cech cohomology. Here is a similar question with some suggestions:

Arithmetic genus of curves

Note (dec 2022) : This is also stated as an exercise in Hartshorne (HH) (Ex.III.4.7) in the chapter on cohomology. You must write down the Cech complex and calculate the dimensions explicitly. There is no condition on the base field or if the polynomial is irreducible. I do not think there is a "quick and easy method" as someone claims. The Hartshorne exercise reduces the case to covering the curve $C$ with two affine open subsets.

Here is a calculation using Ex.III.4.1 in HH: By Serre duality and Ex.III.4.1 in HH the following holds: Let $i:C \rightarrow S:=\mathbb{P}^2_k$ be the embedding into the projective plane. Since $i$ is an affine morphism it follows

$$H^i(C, \mathcal{O}_C) \cong H^i(S, i_*\mathcal{O}_C)$$


$$H^2(S, \mathcal{O}_S(-d)) \cong H^0(S, \mathcal{O}_S(d-3))^*$$

hence $h^2(S, \mathcal{O}_S(-d))=\frac{(d-1)(d-2)}{2}$ and $h^0(S, \mathcal{O}_S)=1$. Taking the long exact cohomology sequence of the sequence

$$ 0 \rightarrow \mathcal{O}_S(-d) \rightarrow \mathcal{O}_S \rightarrow i_*\mathcal{O}_C \rightarrow 0$$

you get the sequence

$$0 \rightarrow H^0(S, \mathcal{O}(-d)) \rightarrow H^0(S, \mathcal{O}_S) \rightarrow H^0(C, \mathcal{O}_C) \rightarrow $$

$$H^1(S, \mathcal{O}(-d)) \rightarrow H^1(S, \mathcal{O}_S) \rightarrow H^1(C, \mathcal{O}_C) \rightarrow $$

$$H^2(S, \mathcal{O}(-d)) \rightarrow H^2(S, \mathcal{O}_S) \rightarrow H^2(C, \mathcal{O}_C)=0.$$

It follows

$$H^0(C, \mathcal{O}_C) \cong H^0(S, \mathcal{O}_S) \cong k$$


$$H^1(C, \mathcal{O}_C) \cong H^2(S, \mathcal{O}(-d)) \cong H^0(S, \mathcal{O}(d-3))^*$$


$$p_a(C)=1-h^0(C,\mathcal{O}_C)+h^1(C, \mathcal{O}_C)=$$

$$ 1-1+h^1(S,i_*\mathcal{O}_C) = h^2(S, \mathcal{O}(-d))-h^2(S, \mathcal{O}_S)=h^2(S, \mathcal{O}(-d))=h^0(S, \mathcal{O}(d-3)).$$

You get the formula


Hence the result also follows from Ex.III.4.1 and III.5.1 in Hartshorne. In general a curve cannot be embedded into the projective plane, and for such curves the above does not apply.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your answer! I just looked it up in Hartshorne and, sadly, in all of Chapter I he works over a closed field. So, while the statement can be derived from this source and the connection between the statements from chapter III (which work over arbitrary fields) and chapter I is clear, the formula from chapter 1 is only citable (without much further explanation) if the field is closed. Correct me if I'm wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Guenterino
    Jul 24, 2021 at 19:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Guenterino - the methods introduced in HH.Ch.III defines the arithmetic genus using the cohomology of the structure sheaf $\mathcal{O}_C$. "Cech"-cohomology can be used to calculate $p_a(C)$ - see the edited post. $\endgroup$
    – hm2020
    Jul 25, 2021 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ I understand that using scheme-theoretic tools and cohomology can produce this formula. Another way (or is it the same?) to do this has already been explained by KReiser. I said that I don't understand these scheme theoretic arguments enough to use them. I asked for a reference that states the formula explicitly over arbitrary fields. I accepted my answer, because it is the answer that best answers the question. I'm sorry about not being able to accept yours or KReisers answer but I feel like it's the right way to proceed here. $\endgroup$
    – Guenterino
    Jul 25, 2021 at 13:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Guenterino - If you want to study non-reduced schemes you will need the techniques introduced in Hartshorne, Ch.II and III (and the Liu book). You should try to calculate the arithmetic genus $p_a(C)$ for $C \subseteq \mathbb{P}^2_k$ directly using Cech cohomology and the methods in CH.III. Then you will learn more about the constructions. $\endgroup$
    – hm2020
    Jul 26, 2021 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for this suggestion. Your answer already gave me a lot of insight and I plan to learn these techniques on the long run. I just needed a reference right now for a thesis. I am certainly looking forward to understanding the theory in the future, though. $\endgroup$
    – Guenterino
    Jul 26, 2021 at 10:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .