nLab pointed object

Pointed objects

This entry is about the classical notion of pointed objects (pointed sets, pointed topological spaces, etc.). Compare the variant notion of pointed object in a monoidal category.

Pointed objects


In a category CC with a terminal object *C\ast \,\in\, C, a pointed object (X,x)(X,x) is an object XX equipped with a global element, hence with a morphism of the form x:*Xx \,\colon\, \ast \to X, often called the basepoint.

Pointed objects are distinguished from inhabited objects in that the chosen point is structure rather than a property. In particular, a homomorphism of pointed objects is a morphism in the original category which preserves the basepoints. In other words, the category of pointed objects in CC is the co-slice category */C\ast/C under the terminal object.

(More generally, one might regard any coslice category under any object XCX \,\in\, C as the category of “XX-pointed objects”. This is common in the case where CC is a monoidal category and X=IX = I is its tensor unit, in which case one speaks of pointed objects in a monoidal category. See also generalized element.)

There is an obvious forgetful functor which forgets the basepoint

*/C C (X,x) X. \begin{array}{ccc} \ast/C &\longrightarrow& C \\ (X,x) &\mapsto& X \mathrlap{\,.} \end{array}

If CC has finite coproducts, this functor has a left adjoint functor which takes an object XX to the coproduct *X\ast\sqcup X, equipped with its obvious point (this functor underlies the “maybe monad”). This is often written X +X_+ and called “XX with a disjoint basepoint adjoined.” A pointed object is equivalently a module over a monad for this monad.



Let 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a category and let X𝒞X \in \mathcal{C} be an object.

The slice category 𝒞 /X\mathcal{C}_{/X} is the category whose

  • objects are morphisms A X\array{A \\ \downarrow \\ X} in 𝒞\mathcal{C};

  • morphisms are commuting triangles A B X\array{ A && \longrightarrow && B \\ & {}_{}\searrow && \swarrow \\ && X} in 𝒞\mathcal{C}.

Dually, the coslice category 𝒞 X/\mathcal{C}^{X/} is the category whose

  • objects are morphisms X A\array{X \\ \downarrow \\ A} in 𝒞\mathcal{C};

  • morphisms are commuting triangles X A B\array{ && X \\ & \swarrow && \searrow \\ A && \longrightarrow && B } in 𝒞\mathcal{C}.

There is the canonical forgetful functor

U:𝒞 /X,𝒞 X/𝒞 U \;\colon \; \mathcal{C}_{/X}, \mathcal{C}^{X/} \longrightarrow \mathcal{C}

given by forgetting the morphisms to/from XX.

We here focus on this class of examples:


For 𝒞\mathcal{C} a category with terminal object *\ast, the coslice category (def. ) 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} is the corresponding category of pointed objects: its

  • objects are morphisms in 𝒞\mathcal{C} of the form *xX\ast \overset{x}{\to} X (hence an object XX equipped with a choice of point; i.e. a pointed object);

  • morphisms are commuting triangles of the form

    * x y X f Y \array{ && \ast \\ & {}^{\mathllap{x}}\swarrow && \searrow^{\mathrlap{y}} \\ X && \overset{f}{\longrightarrow} && Y }

    (hence morphisms in 𝒞\mathcal{C} which preserve the chosen points).



The pointed objects in Sets are pointed sets.


Within the doctrine of cartesian monoidal categories, all internal notions of algebraic structures with units, such as

are in particular (i.e. have underlying) pointed objects in their ambient categories.


Pointed topological spaces and pointed simplicial sets are important in homotopy theory (where they are often called based), for instance for the discussion of homotopy fibers, loop space objects etc. See also at classical model structure on pointed topological spaces, which makes them be models for pointed homotopy types.


(relation to pointed categories)
If 𝒟\mathcal{D} is a “pointed category” in the sense that it contains a zero object (hence a terminal object which is also initial), then each of its objects carries a unique structure of a pointed object (by the universal property of initial objects).

Moreover, any category 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} of pointed objects is a pointed category, in this sense, with the zero object of 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} being *!*\ast \overset{\exists !}{\to} \ast. This must be the origin of the terminology “pointed category”.

Alternatively, it makes (more?) sense to understand under a “pointed category” a pointed object (,E)(\mathcal{E}, E) in Categories, hence a category \mathcal{E} equipped with an object EE \in \mathcal{E}. Then one may want to say that the “EE-pointed objects” (X,x E)(X,x_E) in (,E)(\mathcal{E}, E) are morphisms of the form x E:EXx_E \colon E \to X (i.e. generalized elements of XX at stage EE).


Pointed nn-n-categories figure prominently in the delooping hypothesis; see also k-tuply monoidal n-category. In particular, a fancy name for a pointed set (Exp. ) is a 0-tuply monoidal 0-category.


Forgetting and adjoining basepoints


Let 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a category with terminal object and finite colimits. Then the forgetful functor 𝒞 */𝒞\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \to \mathcal{C} from its category of pointed objects, def. , has a left adjoint given by forming the disjoint union (coproduct) with a base point (“adjoining a base point”), this is denoted by

() +()*:𝒞𝒞 */. (-)_+ \coloneqq (-) \sqcup \ast \;\colon \; \mathcal{C} \longrightarrow \mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \,.

Zero object and pointed category structure


In a category of pointed objects 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}, def. , the terminal object coincides with the initial object, both are given by *𝒞\ast \in \mathcal{C} itself, pointed in the unique way.

In this situation one says that *\ast is a zero object and that 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} is a pointed category.

It follows that also all hom-sets 𝒞 */(X,Y)\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}(X,Y) of 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} are canonically pointed sets, pointed by the zero morphism

0:X!0Y. 0 \;\colon\; X \overset{\exists!}{\longrightarrow} 0 \overset{\exists}{\longrightarrow} Y \,.

Conversely, if 𝒞\mathcal{C} has a zero object, then every object is automatically pointed in a unique way, so that 𝒞\mathcal{C} is equivalent to its category of pointed objects.

Limits and colimits


Let 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a category with all limits and colimits. Then also the category of pointed objects 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}, def. , has all limits and colimits.


  1. the limits are the limits of the underlying diagrams in 𝒞\mathcal{C}, with the base point of the limit induced by its universal property in 𝒞\mathcal{C};

  2. the colimits are the colimits in 𝒞\mathcal{C} of the diagrams with the basepoint adjoined.


It is immediate to check the relevant universal property. For details see at slice category – limits and colimits.

Wedge sum and Smash product


Given two pointed objects (X,x)(X,x) and (Y,y)(Y,y), then:

  1. their product in 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} is simply (X×Y,(x,y))(X\times Y, (x,y));

  2. their coproduct in 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} has to be computed using the second clause in prop. : since the point *\ast has to be adjoined to the diagram, it is given not by the coproduct in 𝒞\mathcal{C}, but by the pushout in 𝒞\mathcal{C} of the form:

    * x X y (po) Y XY. \array{ \ast &\overset{x}{\longrightarrow}& X \\ {}^{\mathllap{y}}\downarrow &(po)& \downarrow \\ Y &\longrightarrow& X \vee Y } \,.

    This is called the wedge sum operation on pointed objects.

Generally for a set {X i} iI\{X_i\}_{i \in I} in 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}

  1. their product is formed in TopTop, with the new basepoint canonically induced;

  2. their coproduct is formed by the colimit in TopTop over the diagram with a basepoint adjoined, and is called the wedge sum iIX i\vee_{i \in I} X_i.


For XX a CW-complex, then for every nn \in \mathbb{N} the quotient of its nn-skeleton by its (n1)(n-1)-skeleton is the wedge sum, def. , of nn-spheres, one for each nn-cell of XX:

X n/X n1iI nS n. X^n / X^{n-1} \simeq \underset{i \in I_n}{\vee} S^n \,.

For 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} a category of pointed objects with finite limits and finite colimits, the smash product is the functor

()():𝒞 */×𝒞 */𝒞 */ (-)\wedge(-) \;\colon\; \mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \times \mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \longrightarrow \mathcal{C}^{\ast/}

given by

XY*XY(X×Y), X \wedge Y \;\coloneqq\; \ast \underset{X\sqcup Y}{\sqcup} (X \times Y) \,,

hence by the pushout in 𝒞\mathcal{C}

XY (id X,y),(x,id Y) X×Y * XY. \array{ X \sqcup Y &\overset{(id_X,y),(x,id_Y) }{\longrightarrow}& X \times Y \\ \downarrow && \downarrow \\ \ast &\longrightarrow& X \wedge Y } \,.

In terms of the wedge sum from def. , this may be written concisely as

XY=X×YXY. X \wedge Y = \frac{X\times Y}{X \vee Y} \,.

These two operations are ubiquituous in stable homotopy theory:

symbolnamecategory theory
XYX \vee Ywedge sumcoproduct in 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}
XYX \wedge Ysmash producttensor product in 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}

For X,YTopX, Y \in Top, with X +,Y +Top */X_+,Y_+ \in Top^{\ast/}, def. , then

  • X +Y +(XY) +X_+ \vee Y_+ \simeq (X \sqcup Y)_+;

  • X +Y +(X×Y) +X_+ \wedge Y_+ \simeq (X \times Y)_+.


By example , X +Y +X_+ \vee Y_+ is given by the colimit in TopTop over the diagram

* X * * Y. \array{ && && \ast \\ && & \swarrow && \searrow \\ X &\,\,& \ast && && \ast &\,\,& Y } \,.

This is clearly A*BA \sqcup \ast \sqcup B. Then, by definition

X +Y + (X*)×(X*)(X*)(Y*) X×YXY*XY* X×Y*. \begin{aligned} X_+ \wedge Y_+ & \simeq \frac{(X \sqcup \ast) \times (X \sqcup \ast)}{(X\sqcup \ast) \vee (Y \sqcup \ast)} \\ & \simeq \frac{X \times Y \sqcup X \sqcup Y \sqcup \ast}{X \sqcup Y \sqcup \ast} \\ & \simeq X \times Y \sqcup \ast \,. \end{aligned}

Let 𝒞 */=Top */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} = Top^{\ast/} be pointed topological spaces. Then

I +Top */ I_+ \in Top^{\ast/}

denotes the standard interval object I=[0,1]I = [0,1], with a disjoint basepoint adjoined, def. . Now for XX any pointed topological space, then

X(I +)=(X×I)/({x 0}×I) X \wedge (I_+) = (X \times I)/(\{x_0\} \times I)

is the reduced cylinder over XX: the result of forming the ordinary cyclinder over XX, and then identifying the interval over the basepoint of XX with the point.

(Generally, any construction in 𝒞\mathcal{C} properly adapted to pointed objects 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} is called the “reduced” version of the unpointed construction. Notably so for “reduced suspension” which we come to below.)

Just like the ordinary cylinder X×IX\times I receives a canonical injection from the coproduct XXX \sqcup X formed in TopTop, so the reduced cyclinder receives a canonical injection from the coproduct XXX \sqcup X formed in Top */Top^{\ast/}, which is the wedge sum from example :

XXX(I +). X \vee X \longrightarrow X \wedge (I_+) \,.

Fibers and cofibers – kernels and cokernels


Given a morphism f:XYf \colon X \longrightarrow Y in a category of pointed objects 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}, def. , with finite limits and colimits,

  1. its fiber or kernel is the pullback of the point inclusion

    fib(f) X (pb) f * Y \array{ fib(f) &\longrightarrow& X \\ \downarrow &(pb)& \downarrow^{\mathrlap{f}} \\ \ast &\longrightarrow& Y }
  2. its cofiber or cokernel is the pushout of the point projection

    X f Y (po) * cofib(f). \array{ X &\overset{f}{\longrightarrow}& Y \\ \downarrow &(po)& \downarrow \\ \ast &\longrightarrow& cofib(f) } \,.

In the situation of def. , both the pullback as well as the pushout are equivalently computed in 𝒞\mathcal{C}. For the pullback this is the first clause of prop. . The second clause says that for computing the pushout in 𝒞\mathcal{C}, first the point is to be adjoined to the diagram, and then the colimit over the larger diagram

* X f Y * \array{ \ast \\ & \searrow \\ & & X &\overset{f}{\longrightarrow}& Y \\ & & \downarrow && \\ & & \ast && }

be computed. But one readily checks that in this special case this does not affect the result. (The technical jargon is that the inclusion of the smaller diagram into the larger one in this case happens to be a final functor.)

Closed and monoidal structure


Let 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a closed monoidal category with finite limits.

For X,Y𝒞 *X, Y \in \mathcal{C}^{\ast} two pointed objects in 𝒞\mathcal{C}, their pointed mapping space

[X,Y] *𝒞 */ [X,Y]_* \in \mathcal{C}^{\ast/}

(the “object of basepoint-preserving maps”), is the pullback

[X,Y] * * (pb) [X,Y] [1,Y] \array{ [X,Y]_* & \overset{}{\longrightarrow} & \ast \\ \downarrow &(pb)& \downarrow \\ [X,Y] & \underset{}{\longrightarrow} & [1,Y] }

where the morphism [X,Y][1,Y][X,Y]\to [1,Y] is induced from the point *X\ast\to X, and the morphism *[*,Y]\ast\to [\ast,Y] is the adjunct to ***Y\ast \otimes \ast \to \ast \to Y.

Regard [X,Y] *[X,Y]_* as a pointed object with basepoint induced by the map *[X,Y]\ast\to [X,Y] whose adjunct is *X*Y\ast \otimes X \to \ast \to Y.


Let 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a closed monoidal category with finite limits and with finite colimits.

For every pointed object X𝒞 *X \in \mathcal{C}^{\ast} the operation of forming the pointed mapping space out of XX, def. , and the operation of forming the smash product with XX, def. form a pair of adjoint functors

(X()[X,] *):𝒞 */𝒞 */. ( X \wedge (-) \;\dashv\; [X,-]_\ast ) \;\colon\; \mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \leftrightarrow \mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \,.

This makes 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} itself a closed monoidal category, which is symmetric if 𝒞\mathcal{C} is. The tensor unit is I +I_+ (def. ) for II the unit for the monoidal structure on 𝒞\mathcal{C}.

(Elmendorf-Mandell 07, lemma 4.20)


The case when 𝒞\mathcal{C} is cartesian, or at least semicartesian, is most common in the literature.


If 𝒞\mathcal{C} is monoidal but not closed, the same definition of the smash product makes 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} monoidal as long as the tensor product of 𝒞\mathcal{C} preserves finite colimits in each variable separately.

If not, the smash product can fail to be associative. For instance, the smash product on the ordinary category Top (without any niceness conditions imposed) is not associative.

For base change functoriality of these structures see at Wirthmüller context – Examples – On pointed objects.


Pointed objects are the algebras over a monad of the monad XX*X \mapsto X \sqcup \ast (the “maybe monad”). (Already the unit axiom of the monad makes its algebras be pointed objects, the action axiom does not add any further condition in this case.)

Notice that if sufficient colimits exist in the first place, then this functor is trivially an accessible functor, hence an accessible monad. This makes categories of pointed objects inherit good properties from the ambient category, see at accessible monad – Categories of algebras.

Classifying topos

The classifying topos for pointed object is the presheaf topos PSh((FinSet *) op)PSh((FinSet_\ast)^{op}) on the opposite category of pointed finite sets. See at classifying topos for the theory of objects for more on this.

Model category structure


(model structure on pointed objects)

Let 𝒞\mathcal{C} be a model category and let X𝒞X \in \mathcal{C} be an object. Then both the slice category 𝒞 /X\mathcal{C}_{/X} as well as the coslice category 𝒞 X/\mathcal{C}^{X/}, def. , carry model structures themselves – the model structure on a (co-)slice category, where a morphism is a weak equivalence, fibration or cofibration iff its image under the forgetful functor UU is so in 𝒞\mathcal{C}.

In particular the category 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} of pointed objects, def. , in a model category 𝒞\mathcal{C} becomes itself a model category this way.


The model structure as claimed is immediate by inspection.


For 𝒞=Top Quillen\mathcal{C} = Top_{Quillen}, the classical model structure on topological spaces, then the model structure on pointed topological spaces induced via prop. we call the classical model structure on pointed topological spaces Top Quillen */Top_{Quillen}^{\ast/}. Its homotopy category of a model category is the classical pointed homotopy theory Ho(Top */)Ho(Top^{\ast/}).


The fibrant objects in the pointed model structure 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}, prop. , are those that are fibrant as objects of 𝒞\mathcal{C}.

But the cofibrant objects in 𝒞 *\mathcal{C}^{\ast} are now those for which the basepoint inclusion is a cofibration in XX.

For 𝒞 */=Top */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} = Top^{\ast/}, then the corresponding cofibrant pointed topological spaces are tyically referred to as spaces with non-degenerate basepoints. Notice that the point itself is cofibrant in Top QuillenTop_{Quillen}, so that cofibrant pointed topological spaces are in particular cofibrant topological spaces.


For 𝒞\mathcal{C} any model category, with 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} its pointed model structure according to prop. , then the corresponding homotopy category is, by remark , canonically enriched in pointed sets, in that its hom-functor is of the form

[,] *:Ho(𝒞 */) op×Ho(𝒞 */)Set */. [-,-]_\ast \;\colon\; Ho(\mathcal{C}^{\ast/})^\op \times Ho(\mathcal{C}^{\ast/}) \longrightarrow Set^{\ast/} \,.

If 𝒞\mathcal{C} is a monoidal model category with cofibrant tensor unit, then the pointed model structure on 𝒞 */\mathcal{C}^{\ast/} (prop. ) is also a monoidal model category, and the smash product\dashvmapping space adjunction of prop. is a Quillen adjunction

(X()() X):𝒞 */𝒞 */. ( X \wedge (-) \;\dashv\; (-)^X ) \;\colon\; \mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \leftrightarrow \mathcal{C}^{\ast/} \,.


Last revised on June 5, 2023 at 11:35:50. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.