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2 Added mention of Makanin's algorithm

Such groups are often called 'very large'. A group with a very large subgroup of finite index is called 'large'. Here are some miscellaneous facts:

• Baumslag and Pride showed that every group of deficiency two (ie with a presentation with two more generators than relators) is large.

• One can deduce from Wise's residually finite version of the Rips construction that there is a 'large' version of the Rips construction; that is, for every fp group $Q$ there is a short exact sequence

$1\to K\to\Gamma\to Q\to 1$

where $K$ is 3-generated and $\Gamma$ is large.

So large (and hence very large) groups are quite common. I doubt there is any kind of characterisation, but there are some open questions that are relevant. For instance:

Question: Is there a finitely presentable group $\Gamma$ with $vb_1(\Gamma)=\infty$ which is not large?

Note that $\mathbb{Z}\wr\mathbb{Z}$ gives a non-finitely presentable counterexample. (Here $vb_1(\Gamma)$ is of course the maximum of the first Betti number over all subgroups of finite index. It is obvious that $vb_1$ of a large group is infinite.)

And another thing...

I just remembered that there is a (not implementable) algorithm to determine whether a finitely presented group is very large. The point is that the group $G=\langle x_1,\ldots,x_m\mid r_1,\ldots,r_n\rangle$ maps onto a non-abelian free group if and only if some system of equations and inequations

$[x_p,x_q] \neq 1\wedge\bigwedge_j r_j(x_1,\ldots,x_m)=1$

has a solution in $F_2$, for some $p\neq q$. Now, such systems of equations and inequations over a free group $F_n$ can be solved by Makanin's algorithm.

1

Such groups are often called 'very large'. A group with a very large subgroup of finite index is called 'large'. Here are some miscellaneous facts:

• Baumslag and Pride showed that every group of deficiency two (ie with a presentation with two more generators than relators) is large.

• One can deduce from Wise's residually finite version of the Rips construction that there is a 'large' version of the Rips construction; that is, for every fp group $Q$ there is a short exact sequence

$1\to K\to\Gamma\to Q\to 1$

where $K$ is 3-generated and $\Gamma$ is large.

So large (and hence very large) groups are quite common. I doubt there is any kind of characterisation, but there are some open questions that are relevant. For instance:

Question: Is there a finitely presentable group $\Gamma$ with $vb_1(\Gamma)=\infty$ which is not large?

Note that $\mathbb{Z}\wr\mathbb{Z}$ gives a non-finitely presentable counterexample. (Here $vb_1(\Gamma)$ is of course the maximum of the first Betti number over all subgroups of finite index. It is obvious that $vb_1$ of a large group is infinite.)