This may be a trivial question yet I was unable to find an answer:

$$\left \| A \right \| _2=\sqrt{\lambda_{\text{max}}(A^{^*}A)}=\sigma_{\text{max}}(A)$$

where the spectral norm $\left \| A \right \| _2$ of a complex matrix $A$ is defined as $$\text{max} \left\{ \|Ax\|_2 : \|x\| = 1 \right\}$$

How does one prove the first and the second equality?

  • $\begingroup$ What are your thoughts on the second equality? $\endgroup$
    – Git Gud
    Nov 30, 2013 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ @GitGud Oh, does that mean singular values are defined in this way, i.e., the second equality is a definition? $\endgroup$
    – mathemage
    Nov 30, 2013 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ It's not a definition. It's a direct consequence of the definition. Can you see this? $\endgroup$
    – Git Gud
    Nov 30, 2013 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ math.stackexchange.com/questions/482170/2-norm-vs-operator-norm $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2013 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @GitGud One normally can't if one does not know about the Courant-Fischer's characterisation. $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2013 at 2:37

2 Answers 2


Put $B=A^*A$ which is a Hermitian matrix. A linear transformation of the Euclidean vector space $E$ is Hermite iff there exists an orthonormal basis of E consisting of all the eigenvectors of $B$. Let $\lambda_1,...,\lambda_n$ be the eigenvalues of $B$ and $\left \{ e_1,...e_n \right \}$ be an orthonormal basis of $E$. Denote by $\lambda_{j_{0}}$ to be the largest eigenvalue of $B$.

For $x=a_1e_1+...+a_ne_n$, we have $\left \| x \right \|=\left \langle \sum_{i=1}^{n}a_ie_i,\sum_{i=1}^{n}a_ie_i \right \rangle^{1/2} =\sqrt{\sum_{i=1}^{n}a_i^{2}}$ and $Bx=B\left ( \sum_{i=1}^{n}a_ie_i \right )=\sum_{i=1}^{n}a_iB(e_i)=\sum_{i=1}^{n}\lambda_ia_ie_i$. Therefore:

$\left \| Ax \right \|=\sqrt{\left \langle Ax,Ax \right \rangle}=\sqrt{\left \langle x,A^*Ax \right \rangle}=\sqrt{\left \langle x,Bx \right \rangle}=\sqrt{\left \langle \sum_{i=1}^{n}a_ie_i,\sum_{i=1}^{n}\lambda_ia_ie_i \right \rangle}=\sqrt{\sum_{i=1}^{n}a_i\overline{\lambda_ia_i}} \leq \underset{1\leq j\leq n}{\max}\sqrt{\left |\lambda_j \right |} \times (\left \| x \right \|)$

So, if $\left \| A \right \|$ = $\max \left\{ \|Ax\| : \|x\| = 1 \right\}$ then $\left \| A \right \|\leq \underset{1\leq j\leq n}\max\sqrt{\left |\lambda_j \right |}$. (1)

Consider: $x_0=e_{j_{0}}$ $\Rightarrow \left \| x_0 \right \|=1$ so that $\left \| A \right \|^2 \geq \left \langle x_0,Bx_0 \right \rangle=\left \langle e_{j_0},B(e_{j_0}) \right \rangle=\left \langle e_{j_0},\lambda_{j_0} e_{j_0} \right \rangle = \lambda_{j_0}$. (2)

Combining (1) and (2) gives us $\left \| A \right \|= \underset{1\leq j\leq n}{\max}\sqrt{\left | \lambda_{j} \right |}$ where $\lambda_j$ is the eigenvalue of $B=A^*A$

Conclusion: $$\left \| A \right \| _2=\sqrt{\lambda_{\text{max}}(A^{^*}A)}=\sigma_{\text{max}}(A)$$

  • $\begingroup$ Why is $A^*A$ a unitary matrix? For $A$ as a zero matrix or a general real diagonal matrix, this doesn't have to be unitary, right? $\endgroup$
    – mathemage
    Nov 30, 2013 at 16:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That's my mistake. That should be Hermite. Got fixed! $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2013 at 16:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ And (2) is still blur to me: how can we say $$\left \| A \right \| \geq \left \langle x,Bx \right \rangle=\left \langle e_{j_0},B(e_{j_0}) \right \rangle$$ $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2015 at 0:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @sleevechen for (1) we can say it because $\left \| A \right \|$ is the maximum of all the elements in the set, and it was just shown that each element is $\leq $ the largest singular value times $\left \| x \right \| = 1$. For (2), since $\left \| A \right \|$ is the maximum, it must be $\geq$ than any particular element, namely $\left \| A {e_j}_0 \right \|=\left \| A{e_j}_0\right \|=\left \langle A{e_j}_0,A{e_j}_0 \right \rangle=\left \langle {e_j}_0,A^*A{e_j}_0 \right \rangle=\left \langle {e_j}_0,B{e_j}_0 \right \rangle$ $\endgroup$
    – ignoramus
    Jun 8, 2016 at 11:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AnKhuongDoan, Could you explain why on page 16 in math.ucla.edu/~wotaoyin/summer2016/4_proximal.pdf it says: "note: the spectral norm returns the square root of the max eigenvalue of $ {A}^{T} A $, may not equal the max singular value for asymmetric matrices."? $\endgroup$
    – Royi
    Sep 25, 2017 at 8:17

First of all, $$\begin{align*}\sup_{\|x\|_2 =1}\|Ax\|_2 & = \sup_{\|x\|_2 =1}\|U\Sigma V^Tx\|_2 = \sup_{\|x\|_2 =1}\|\Sigma V^Tx\|_2\end{align*}$$ since $U$ is unitary, that is, $\|Ux_0\|_2^2 = x_0^TU^TUx_0 = x_0^Tx_0 = \|x_0\|_2^2$, for some vector $x_0$.

Then let $y = V^Tx$. By the same argument above, $\|y\|_2 = \|V^Tx\|_2 = \|x\|_2 = 1$ since $V$ is unitary. $$\sup_{\|x\|_2 =1}\|\Sigma V^Tx\|_2 = \sup_{\|y\|_2 =1}\|\Sigma y\|_2$$ Since $\Sigma = \mbox{diag}(\sigma_1, \cdots, \sigma_n)$, where $\sigma_1$ is the largest singular value. The max for the above, $\sigma_1$, is attained when $y = (1,\cdots,0)^T$. You can find the max by, for example, solving the above using a Lagrange Multiplier.


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