In plain language, what’s the difference between two things that are ‘equivalent’, ‘equal’, and ‘identical’?

In plain language, what’s the difference between two things that are ‘equivalent’, ‘equal’, ‘identical’, and isomorphic?

If the answer depends on the area of mathematics, then please take the question in the context of logical systems and statements.


Convention may vary, but the following is, I guess, how most mathematicians would use these notions. Identical and equal are very often used synonymously. However, sometimes identical is meant to say that the two things are not just equal, but actually are syntactically equal. For instance, take x=2. The claim that x2=4 is saying that x2 and 4 are equal. The claim that x2=x2 is saying that x2 is equal to x2, but we also say that the left hand side and the right hand side are identical.

Equivalence is a strictly weaker notion than equality. It can be formalized in many different ways. For instance, as an equivalence relation. The identity relation is always an equivalence relation, but not the other way around. A typical way to obtain an equivalence is to suppress some properties of the objects you study, and only look at particular aspects of them. A classical example is modular arithmetic. We say that 10 and 20 are equivalent modulo 5, basically saying that while 10 and 20 are not equal, if the only thing we care about is their divisibility by 5, then they are the same.

Isomorphism is a specific term from category theory. Two objects are isomorphic if there exists an invertible morphism between them. Informally, two isomorphic objects are identical for the purposes of answering any question about them in their category.

Source : Link , Question Author : Hal , Answer Author : Ittay Weiss

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