Transcendental Numbers

In mathematics, a transcendental number is a real or complex number that is not algebraic—that is, it is not a root of a non-zero polynomial equation with integer (or, equivalently, rational) coefficients. The best-known transcendental numbers are π and e. Though only a few classes of transcendental numbers are known (in part because it can be extremely difficult to show that a given number is transcendental), transcendental numbers are not rare. Indeed, almost all real and complex numbers are transcendental, since the algebraic numbers are countable while the sets of real and complex numbers are both uncountable. All real transcendental numbers are irrational, since all rational numbers are algebraic. The converse is not true: not all irrational numbers are transcendental; e.g., the square root of 2 is irrational but not a transcendental number, since it is a solution of the polynomial equation x2 − 2 = 0. Another irrational number that is not transcendental is the golden ratio, \varphi or \phi .


The set of transcendental numbers is uncountably infinite. Since the polynomials with rational coefficients are countable, and since each such polynomial has a finite number of zeroes, the algebraic numbers must also be countable. However, Cantor's diagonal argument proves that the real numbers (and therefore also the complex numbers) are uncountable. Since the real numbers are the union of algebraic and transcendental numbers, they cannot both be countable. This makes the transcendental numbers uncountable.

No rational number is transcendental and all real transcendental numbers are irrational. The irrational numbers contain all the real transcendental numbers and a subset of the algebraic numbers, including the quadratic irrationals and other forms of algebraic irrationals.

Any non-constant algebraic function of a single variable yields a transcendental value when applied to a transcendental argument. For example, from knowing that π is transcendental, we can immediately deduce that numbers such as 5π, (π − 3)/√2, (√π − √3)8 and (π5 + 7)1/7 are transcendental as well.

However, an algebraic function of several variables may yield an algebraic number when applied to transcendental numbers if these numbers are not algebraically independent. For example, π and (1 − π) are both transcendental, but π + (1 − π) = 1 is obviously not. It is unknown whether π + e, for example, is transcendental, though at least one of π + e and πe must be transcendental. More generally, for any two transcendental numbers a and b, at least one of a + b and ab must be transcendental. To see this, consider the polynomial (xa)(xb) = x2 − (a + b)x + ab. If (a + b) and ab were both algebraic, then this would be a polynomial with algebraic coefficients. Because algebraic numbers form an algebraically closed field, this would imply that the roots of the polynomial, a and b, must be algebraic. But this is a contradiction, and thus it must be the case that at least one of the coefficients is transcendental.

The non-computable numbers are a strict subset of the transcendental numbers.

All Liouville numbers are transcendental, but not vice versa. Any Liouville number must have unbounded partial quotients in its continued fraction expansion. Using a counting argument one can show that there exist transcendental numbers which have bounded partial quotients and hence are not Liouville numbers.

Using the explicit continued fraction expansion of e, one can show that e is not a Liouville number (although the partial quotients in its continued fraction expansion are unbounded). Kurt Mahler showed in 1953 that π is also not a Liouville number. It is conjectured that all infinite continued fractions with bounded terms that are not eventually periodic are transcendental (eventually periodic continued fractions correspond to quadratic irrationals).[12]

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