# Is there notation for subset containing the n smallest (or largest)?

Suppose I have a discrete set $$A=\{a_1,\ldots,a_k\}$$ and I wish to write an expression for the minimum of this set. I would write:

$$\min \{a_1,\ldots,a_k\}$$

But what if rather than just an element, I want the subset of $$A$$ containing the $$n$$ smallest elements of $$A$$? How would I write that?

• $\left\{a\in A\mid \# \{a'\in A\mid a'\le a\}\le n\right\}$? Jun 18, 2022 at 10:56
• @DavidSheard I haven't seen # used for cardinality before but I'm assuming that's what it means? I read this as "the set of all $a$ such that for each $a$ there at most $n$ elements in $A$ that are not greater than $a$". I think this works if all elements of the set are unique but breaks down if there are ties, like if $A=\{1, 2, 3, 3\}$ and we want $n = 3$. The desired expression would evaluate to $\{1, 2, 3\}$ but I think yours evaluates to $\{1, 2\}$ Jun 18, 2022 at 11:12
• @AlexanderSoare by definition, a set has no repeated elements. Otherwise you are using a multiset, and need to change both your question and David Sheard's notation from set brackets to however you represent multisets (e.g. $\{|1,2,3|\}$).
– A.M.
Jun 18, 2022 at 11:13
• @A.M. got it. I think I should change my question to be for "expressions" instead of sets. Like for example $\min_{x \in \mathbb{Z}} x^2$. But I think your answer covers that anyway so I believe we're done here. Jun 18, 2022 at 11:16
• I would say "WLOG $a_1 < a_2 < \dots < a_k$" (or if you need their current ordering, define say $a_i'$ to be obtained by sorting the $a_i$) and then you can talk about $\{a_1, \dotsc, a_n\}$, and maybe define a shorthand for this set if you want. I think that's much clearer than any notation that's more technical or formal. Jun 18, 2022 at 12:32

I don't think there is a standard notation. It is likely to be most clear if you define your own notation in words before using it. Clear notation that springs to mind for me would be $$\min_n (A)$$ or $$\min^{(n)} (A)$$, but it needs explanation.
$$a_1=\min(A) \\ a_{i+1}=\min(A\setminus\{a_1,\dots,a_i\})\ \text{for}\ i\ge 1\\ \text{min}_n(A)=\{a_1,\dots,a_n\}$$
• Do you mean $\min_n(A) = \{a_1, \dotsc, a_n\}$? (no $a_0$ and no complementation) Jun 18, 2022 at 12:34