Bounding the Distinguishing Number of Infinite Graphs and Permutation Groups

  • Simon M. Smith
  • Mark E. Watkins
Keywords: Distinguishing number, Distinguishing coloring, Infinite graph, Infinite permutation group, Imprimitive permutation group, Imprimitive graph


A group of permutations $G$ of a set $V$ is $k$-distinguishable if there exists a partition of $V$ into $k$ cells such that only the identity permutation in $G$ fixes setwise all of the cells of the partition. The least cardinal number $k$ such that $(G,V)$ is $k$-distinguishable is its distinguishing number $D(G,V)$. In particular, a graph $\Gamma$ is $k$-distinguishable if its automorphism group $\rm{Aut}(\Gamma)$ satisfies $D(\rm{Aut}(\Gamma),V\Gamma)\leq k$.

Various results in the literature demonstrate that when an infinite graph fails to have some property, then often some finite subgraph is similarly deficient. In this paper we show that whenever an infinite connected graph $\Gamma$ is not $k$-distinguishable (for a given cardinal $k$), then it contains a ball of finite radius whose distinguishing number is at least $k$. Moreover, this lower bound cannot be sharpened, since for any integer $k \geq 3$ there exists an infinite, locally finite, connected graph $\Gamma$ that is not $k$-distinguishable but in which every ball of finite radius is $k$-distinguishable.

In the second half of this paper we show that a large distinguishing number for an imprimitive group $G$ is traceable to a high distinguishing number either of a block of imprimitivity or of the induced action by $G$ on the corresponding system of imprimitivity. An immediate application is to automorphism groups of infinite imprimitive graphs. These results are companion to the study of the distinguishing number of infinite primitive groups and graphs in a previous paper by the authors together with T. W. Tucker.

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