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In model theory, a discipline within mathematical logic, an abstract elementary class, or AEC for short, is a class of models with a partial order similar to the relation of an elementary substructure of an elementary class in first-order model theory. They were introduced by Saharon Shelah.[1]



 , for   a class of structures in some language  , is an AEC if it has the following properties:

  •   is a partial order on  .
  • If   then   is a substructure of  .
  • Isomorphisms:   is closed under isomorphisms, and if         and   then  
  • Coherence: If     and   then  
  • Tarski–Vaught chain axioms: If   is an ordinal and   is a chain (i.e.  ), then:
    • If  , for all  , then  
  • Löwenheim–Skolem axiom: There exists a cardinal  , such that if   is a subset of the universe of  , then there is   in   whose universe contains   such that   and  . We let   denote the least such   and call it the Löwenheim–Skolem number of  .

Note that we usually do not care about the models of size less than the Löwenheim–Skolem number and often assume that there are none (we will adopt this convention in this article). This is justified since we can always remove all such models from an AEC without influencing its structure above the Löwenheim–Skolem number.

A  -embedding is a map   for   such that   and   is an isomorphism from   onto  . If   is clear from context, we omit it.


The following are examples of abstract elementary classes:[2]

  • An Elementary class is the most basic example of an AEC: If T is a first-order theory, then the class   of models of T together with elementary substructure forms an AEC with Löwenheim–Skolem number |T|.
  • If   is a sentence in the infinitary logic  , and   is a countable fragment containing  , then   is an AEC with Löwenheim–Skolem number  . This can be generalized to other logics, like  , or  , where   expresses "there exists uncountably many".
  • If T is a first-order countable superstable theory, the set of  -saturated models of T, together with elementary substructure, is an AEC with Löwenheim–Skolem number  .
  • Zilber's pseudo-exponential fields form an AEC.

Common assumptionsEdit

AECs are very general objects and one usually make some of the assumptions below when studying them:

  • An AEC has joint embedding if any two model can be embedded inside a common model.
  • An AEC has no maximal model if any model has a proper extension.
  • An AEC   has amalgamation if for any triple   with  ,  , there is   and embeddings of   and   inside   that fix   pointwise.

Note that in elementary classes, joint embedding holds whenever the theory is complete, while amalgamation and no maximal models are well-known consequences of the compactness theorem. These three assumptions allow us to build a universal model-homogeneous monster model  , exactly as in the elementary case.

Another assumption that one can make is tameness.

Shelah's categoricity conjectureEdit

Shelah introduced AECs to provide a uniform framework in which to generalize first-order classification theory. Classification theory started with Morley's categoricity theorem, so it is natural to ask whether a similar result holds in AECs. This is Shelah's eventual categoricity conjecture. It states that there should be a Hanf number for categoricity:

For every AEC K there should be a cardinal   depending only on   such that if K is categorical in some   (i.e. K has exactly one (up to isomorphism) model of size  ), then K is categorical in   for all  .

Shelah also has several stronger conjectures: The threshold cardinal for categoricity is the Hanf number of pseudoelementary classes in a language of cardinality LS(K). More specifically when the class is in a countable language and axiomaziable by an   sentence the threshold number for categoricity is  . This conjecture dates back to 1976.

Several approximations have been published (see for example the results section below), assuming set-theoretic assumptions (such as the existence of large cardinals or variations of the generalized continuum hypothesis), or model-theoretic assumptions (such as amalgamation or tameness). As of 2014, the original conjecture remains open.


The following are some important results about AECs. Except for the last, all results are due to Shelah.

  • Shelah's Presentation Theorem:[3] Any AEC   is  : it is a reduct of a class of models of a first-order theory omitting at most   types.
  • Hanf number for existence:[4] Any AEC   which has a model of size   has models of arbitrarily large sizes.
  • Amalgamation from categoricity:[5] If K is an AEC categorical in   and   and  , then K has amalgamation for models of size  .
  • Existence from categoricity:[6] If K is a   AEC with Löwenheim–Skolem number   and K is categorical in   and  , then K has a model of size  . In particular, no sentence of   can have exactly one uncountable model.
  • Approximations to Shelah's categoricity conjecture:
    • Downward transfer from a successor:[7] If K is an abstract elementary class with amalgamation that is categorical in a "high-enough" successor  , then K is categorical in all high-enough  .
    • Shelah's categoricity conjecture for a successor from large cardinals:[8] If there are class-many strongly compact cardinals, then Shelah's categoricity conjecture holds when we start with categoricity at a successor.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Shelah 1987.
  2. ^ Grossberg 2002, Section 1.
  3. ^ Grossberg 2002, Theorem 3.4.
  4. ^ Grossberg 2002, Corollary 3.5. Note that there is a typo there and that   should be replaced by  .
  5. ^ Grossberg 2002, Theorem 4.3.
  6. ^ Grossberg 2002, Theorem 5.1.
  7. ^ Shelah 1999.
  8. ^ This is due to Will Boney, but combines results of many people, including Grossberg, Makkai, Shelah, and VanDieren. A proof appears in Boney 2014, Theorem 7.5.


  • Shelah, Saharon (1987), John T. Baldwin (ed.), Classification of Non Elementary Classes II. Abstract Elementary Classes, Lecture Notes in Mathematics, 1292, Springer-Verlag, pp. 419–497
  • Shelah, Saharon (1999), "Categoricity for abstract classes with amalgamation" (PDF), Annals of Pure and Applied Logic, 98 (1): 261–294, doi:10.1016/s0168-0072(98)00016-5
  • Grossberg, Rami (2002), "Classification theory for abstract elementary classes" (PDF), Logic and algebra, Contemporary Mathematics, 302, Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society, pp. 165–204, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1090/conm/302/05080, ISBN 9780821829844, MR 1928390
  • Baldwin, John T. (July 7, 2006), Abstract Elementary Classes: Some Answers, More Questions (PDF)
  • Shelah, Saharon (2009), Classification theory for elementary abstract classes, Studies in Logic (London), 18, College Publications, London, ISBN 978-1-904987-71-0
  • Shelah, Saharon (2009), Classification theory for abstract elementary classes. Vol. 2, Studies in Logic (London), 20, College Publications, London, ISBN 978-1-904987-72-7
  • Baldwin, John T. (2009), Categoricity, University Lecture Series, 50, American Mathematical Society, ISBN 978-0821848937
  • Boney, Will (2014). "Tameness from large cardinal axioms". arXiv:1303.0550v4 [math.LO].