In mathematics, a **partially ordered set** (or **poset** for short) is a set equipped with a special binary relation which formalizes the intuitive concept of an ordering. Partially ordered sets are studied in order theory.
## Formal definition
A **partial order** is a binary relation *R* over a set *P* which is reflexive, antisymmetric, and transitive, i.e., for all *a*, *b* and *c* in *P*, we have that: *aRa* (reflexivity); - if
*aRb* and *bRa* then *a* = *b* (antisymmetry); and - if
*aRb* and *bRc* then *aRc* (transitivity). A set with a partial order is called a **partially ordered set**. The term *ordered set* is sometimes also used for posets, as long as it is clear from the context that no other kinds of orders are meant. In particular, totally ordered sets can also be referred to as "ordered sets", especially in areas where these structures are more common than posets. However, most articles should not cause confusion as long as all formal definitions employ exact terminology.
## Strict and weak partial orders In some contexts, the partial order defined above is called a **weak** (or **reflexive**) **partial order**. In these contexts a **strict** (or **irreflexive**) **partial order** is a binary relation which is irreflexive and transitive, and therefore asymmetric. In other words, for all *a*, *b*, and *c* in *P*, we have that: - ¬(
*aRa*) (irreflexivity); - if
*aRb* then ¬(*bRa*) (asymmetry); and - if
*aRb* and *bRc* then *aRc* (transitivity). If *R* is a weak partial order, then *R* − {(*a*, *a*) | *a* in *P*} is the corresponding strict partial order. Similarly, every strict partial order has a corresponding weak partial order, and so the two definitions are essentially equivalent. Strict partial orders are also useful because they correspond more directly to directed acyclic graphs (dags): every strict partial order is a dag, and the transitive closure of a dag is both a strict partial order and also a dag itself.
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