nLab monomorphism


This entry is about the basic notion of “monic” in relation to morphisms in category theory. For the notion of “monic” in relation to polynomials in commutative algebra, see at monic polynomial.



The notion of monomorphism is the generalization of the notion of injective map of sets from the category Set to arbitrary categories.

The formally dual concept is that of epimorphism, which similarly generalizes (or strengthens) the concept of surjective function.

Common jargon includes “is a mono” or “is monic” for “is a monomorphism”, and “is an epi” or “is epic” for “is an epimorphism”, and “is an iso” for “is an isomorphism”.


A morphism f:XYf \colon X \to Y in some category is called a monomorphism (sometimes abbrieviated to mono, or described as being monic), if for every object ZZ and every pair of parallel morphisms g 1,g 2:ZXg_1,g_2 \colon Z \to X then

(fg 1=fg 2)(g 1=g 2). \left( f \circ g_1 \,=\, f \circ g_2 \right) \;\Rightarrow \; \left( g_1 \,=\, g_2 \right) \,.

Stated more abstractly, this says that ff is a monomorphism if for every ZZ the hom-functor Hom(Z,)Hom(Z,-) takes it to an injective function between hom-sets

Hom(Z,X)AAf *AAHom(Z,Y). Hom(Z,X) \overset{\phantom{AA} f_\ast \phantom{AA}}{\hookrightarrow} Hom(Z,Y) \,.

Since injective functions are precisely the monomorphisms in Set (example below) this may be stated as saying that ff is a monomorphism if Hom(Z,f)Hom(Z,f) is a monomorphism for all objects ZZ.

Finally, ff being a monomorphism in a category 𝒞\mathcal{C} means equivalently that it is an epimorphism in the opposite category 𝒞 op\mathcal{C}^{op}.




(monomorphisms in preorders)

In a preorder, all arrows are mono because they satisfy the required condition vacuously (any pair of parallel arrows is equal in a preorder).


(monomorphisms in SetSet)

The monomorphisms in the category Set of sets and functions between them are precisely the injective functions.


Every isomorphism is both a monomorphism and an epimorphism.

But beware that the converse fails:

Examples of monos that are epi but not iso

The following lists some examples of morphisms that are both monomorphisms and epimorphisms, but not necessarily isomorphisms.


In the category of Hausdorff topological spaces, the inclusion AXA \hookrightarrow X of a dense subspace is an epimorphism.

See this Prop. for proof.


In unital Rings, the canonical inclusion i\mathbb{Z} \overset{i}{\hookrightarrow} \mathbb{Q} of the integers into the rational numbers is an epimorphism.

See this Prop. for proof.


We list the following properties without their (easy) proofs. The proofs can be found spelled out (dually) at epimorphism.


The following are equivalent:

  • f:xyf : x \to y is a monomorphism in CC;

  • ff is an epimorphism in the opposite category C opC^{op};

  • postcomposition with ff is a monomorphism in Set: that is, for all cCc \in C, f:Hom(c,x)Hom(c,y)f \circ -: Hom(c,x) \to Hom(c,y) is an injection;

  • the commuting diagram

    x Id x Id f x f y \array{ x &\stackrel{Id}{\to}& x \\ {}^{Id}\downarrow && \downarrow^{f} \\ x &\underset{f}{\to}& y }

    is a pullback diagram.


If f:xyf \colon x \to y and g:yzg \colon y \to z are monomorphisms, so is their composite gfg f. If gfg f is an monomorphism, so is ff.


Every equalizer

txy t \to x \stackrel{\longrightarrow}{\longrightarrow} y

is a monomorphism.

The converse of the above proposition fails, and a mononomorphism that is the equalizer of some pair of morphisms is called a regular monomorphism.


Monomorphisms are preserved by pullback.

(In an adhesive category they are also preserved by pushout.)


Monomorphisms are preserved by any right adjoint functor, or more generally any functors that preserves pullbacks.


Monomorphisms are reflected by faithful functors.

We have seen some ways in which monomorphisms get along with limits. Here is another:


Any morphism from a terminal object is a monomorphism. The product of monomorphisms is a monomorphism.

Monomorphisms do not get along quite as well with colimits. For example, the unique morphism from the initial object is not always an monomorphism, and the canonical morphisms from the summands into a coproduct, e.g. i 1:x 1x 1+x 2i_1 : x_1 \to x_1 + x_2, are not always monomorphisms (though these results do hold in SetSet). However, the unique morphism from the initial object is a monomorphism when the initial object is strict, and the canonical morphisms into a coproduct are monomorphisms when the coproduct is a disjoint coproduct.


At epimorphism there is a long list of variations on the concept of epimorphism. Each of these, of course, has a dual notion for monomorphism, but the ones most commonly used are:

Frequently, regular and strong monos coincide. For instance, this is the case in any quasitopos, and also in Top, where they are the subspace inclusions (the plain monomorphisms are the injective functions).

Sometimes, all monomorphisms are regular—this seems to happen a bit more frequently than for epimorphisms. For instance, this is the case in any pretopos (including any topos, such as Set), but also in any abelian category, and also in the category Grp.

In Ab and in any abelian category, all monomorphisms are normal. But this is not so in Grp, where (despite the fact that all monomorphisms are regular), the normal monos are the inclusions of normal subgroups (hence the name). In any Ab-enriched category, all regular monos are normal, but not all monos need be regular.

In a Boolean topos, such as Set (in classical mathematics), any monomorphism with inhabited domain is split. Of course, no mono with empty domain and inhabited codomain can be split (in contrast to the dual case, where it can happen that all epimorphisms split – the axiom of choice).


Textbook accounts:

Last revised on December 9, 2023 at 07:27:02. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.