In mathematics, a symmetric polynomial is a polynomial in variables, such that if any of the variables are interchanged, one obtains the same polynomial. Formally, is a ''symmetric polynomial'', if for any permutation of the subscripts one has .
Symmetric polynomials arise naturally in the study of the relation between the roots of a polynomial in one variable and its coefficients, since the coefficients can be given by polynomial expressions in the roots, and all roots play a similar role in this setting. From this point of view the elementary symmetric polynomials are the most fundamental symmetric polynomials. A theorem states that any symmetric polynomial can be expressed in terms of elementary symmetric polynomials, which implies that every ''symmetric'' polynomial expression in the roots of a monic polynomial can alternatively be given as a polynomial expression in the coefficients of the polynomial.
Symmetric polynomials also form an interesting structure by themselves, independently of any relation to the roots of a polynomial. In this context other collections of specific symmetric polynomials, such as complete homogeneous, power sum, and Schur polynomials play important roles alongside the elementary ones. The resulting structures, and in particular the ring of symmetric functions, are of great importance in combinatorics and in representation theory.
Symmetric polynomials in two variables ''X''1, ''X''2:
and in three variables ''X''1, ''X''2, ''X''3:
There are many ways to make specific symmetric polynomials in any number of variables, see the various types below. An example of a somewhat different flavor is
where first a polynomial is constructed that changes sign under every exchange of variables, and taking the square renders it completely symmetric (if the variables represent the roots of a monic polynomial, this polynomial gives its discriminant).
On the other hand, the polynomial in two variables
is not symmetric, since if one exchanges and one gets a different polynomial, . Similarly in three variables
has only symmetry under cyclic permutations of the three variables, which is not sufficient to be a symmetric polynomial. However, the following is symmetric:
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