In mathematics, a well-order (or well-ordering or well-order relation) on a set S is a total order on S with the property that every non-empty subset of S has a least element in this ordering. The set S together with the well-order relation is then called a well-ordered set. In some academic articles and textbooks these terms are instead written as wellorder, wellordered, and wellordering or well order, well ordered, and well ordering.
|Transitive binary relations|
|indicates that the column's property is required by the definition of the row's term (at the very left). For example, the definition of an equivalence relation requires it to be symmetric. ✗ indicates that the property may, or may not hold. All definitions tacitly require the homogeneous relation be transitive: for all if and then and there are additional properties that a homogeneous relation may satisfy.|
Every non-empty well-ordered set has a least element. Every element s of a well-ordered set, except a possible greatest element, has a unique successor (next element), namely the least element of the subset of all elements greater than s. There may be elements besides the least element which have no predecessor (see § Natural numbers below for an example). A well-ordered set S contains for every subset T with an upper bound a least upper bound, namely the least element of the subset of all upper bounds of T in S.
If ≤ is a non-strict well ordering, then < is a strict well ordering. A relation is a strict well ordering if and only if it is a well-founded strict total order. The distinction between strict and non-strict well orders is often ignored since they are easily interconvertible.
Every well-ordered set is uniquely order isomorphic to a unique ordinal number, called the order type of the well-ordered set. The well-ordering theorem, which is equivalent to the axiom of choice, states that every set can be well ordered. If a set is well ordered (or even if it merely admits a well-founded relation), the proof technique of transfinite induction can be used to prove that a given statement is true for all elements of the set.