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In measure theory, Carathéodory's extension theorem (named after the mathematician Constantin Carathéodory) states that any pre-measure defined on a given ring R of subsets of a given set Ω can be extended to a measure on the σ-algebra generated by R, and this extension is unique if the pre-measure is σ-finite. Consequently, any pre-measure on a ring containing all intervals of real numbers can be extended to the Borel algebra of the set of real numbers. This is an extremely powerful result of measure theory, and leads, for example, to the Lebesgue measure.

Semi-ring and ringEdit


For a given set  , we may define a semi-ring as a subset   of  , the power set of  , which has the following properties:

  • For all  , we have   (closed under pairwise intersections)
  • For all  , there exist disjoint sets  , such that   (relative complements can be written as finite disjoint unions).

The first property can be replaced with   since  .

With the same notation, we define a ring   as a subset of the power set of   which has the following properties:

  • For all  , we have   (closed under pairwise unions)
  • For all  , we have   (closed under relative complements).

Thus, any ring on   is also a semi-ring.

Sometimes, the following constraint is added in the measure theory context:

  •   is the disjoint union of a countable family of sets in  .

A field of sets (respectively, a semi-field) is a ring (respectively, a semi-ring) that also contains   as one of its elements.


  • Arbitrary (possibly uncountable) intersections of rings on Ω are still rings on Ω.
  • If A is a non-empty subset of  , then we define the ring generated by A (noted R(A)) as the intersection of all rings containing A. It is straightforward to see that the ring generated by A is the smallest ring containing A.
  • For a semi-ring S, the set of all finite unions of sets in S is the ring generated by S:

(One can show that R(S) is equal to the set of all finite disjoint unions of sets in S).

  • A content μ defined on a semi-ring S can be extended on the ring generated by S. Such an extension is unique. The extended content can be written:
  for  , with the Ai in S.

In addition, it can be proved that μ is a pre-measure if and only if the extended content is also a pre-measure, and that any pre-measure on R(S) that extends the pre-measure on S is necessarily of this form.


In measure theory, we are not interested in semi-rings and rings themselves, but rather in σ-algebras generated by them. The idea is that it is possible to build a pre-measure on a semi-ring S (for example Stieltjes measures), which can then be extended to a pre-measure on R(S), which can finally be extended to a measure on a σ-algebra through Caratheodory's extension theorem. As σ-algebras generated by semi-rings and rings are the same, the difference does not really matter (in the measure theory context at least). Actually, Carathéodory's extension theorem can be slightly generalized by replacing ring by semi-field.[1]

The definition of semi-ring may seem a bit convoluted, but the following example shows why it is useful (moreover it allows us to give an explicit representation of the smallest ring containing some semi-ring).


Think about the subset of   defined by the set of all half-open intervals [a, b) for a and b reals. This is a semi-ring, but not a ring. Stieltjes measures are defined on intervals; the countable additivity on the semi-ring is not too difficult to prove because we only consider countable unions of intervals which are intervals themselves. Proving it for arbitrary countable unions of intervals is accomplished using Caratheodory's theorem.

Statement of the theoremEdit

Let   be a ring on   and let μ: R → [0, + ∞] be a pre-measure on R, i.e. for all sets   for which there exists a countable decomposition   in disjoint sets  , we have  .

Let σ(R) be the σ-algebra generated by R. The pre-measure condition is a necessary condition for   to be the restriction to R of a measure on  . The Carathéodory's extension theorem states that it is also sufficient[2], i.e. there exists a measure μ′: σ(R) → [0, + ∞] such that μ′ is an extension of μ. (That is, μ′ |R = μ). Moreover, if μ is σ-finite then the extension μ′ is unique (and also σ-finite).[3]


Non-uniqueness of extensionEdit

Here are some examples where there is more than one extension of a pre-measure to the generated σ-algebra.

For the first example, take the algebra generated by all half-open intervals [a,b) on the real, and give such intervals measure infinity if they are non-empty. The Caratheodory extension gives all non-empty sets measure infinity. Another extension is given by counting measure.

Here is a second example, closely related to the failure of some forms of Fubini's theorem for spaces that are not σ-finite. Suppose that X is the unit interval with Lebesgue measure and Y is the unit interval with the discrete counting measure. Let the ring R be generated by products A×B where A is Lebesgue measurable and B is any subset, and give this set the measure μ(A)card(B). This has a very large number of different extensions to a measure; for example:

  • The measure of a subset is the sum of the measures of its horizontal sections. This is the smallest possible extension. Here the diagonal has measure 0.
  • The measure of a subset is   where n(x) is the number of points of the subset with given x-coordinate. The diagonal has measure 1.
  • The Caratheodory extension, which is the largest possible extension. Any subset of finite measure is contained in some union of a countable number of horizontal lines. In particular the diagonal has measure infinity.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Klenke, Achim (2014). Probability Theory. Universitext. p. Theorem 1.53. doi:10.1007/978-1-4471-5361-0. ISBN 978-1-4471-5360-3.
  2. ^ Vaillant, Theorem 4
  3. ^ Ash, p19