Let us define $d:X^n\rightarrow\mathbb R$. How can we define metric properties such as symmetry, triangle inequality equivalent property etc for such a function?

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree: I believe that the questioner is asking for a significant generalisation of the notion of a metric space. I can't think of any particularly satisfactory answer, but it is certainly a research-level question. $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2012 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ Why didn't you write this into the question instead? It appears to me that the question (as posted above) is jumbled and unclear. Giving a proper context makes the question itself readable and reasonable. I suggest you edit to incorporate the comment. In the meantime, I withdraw my vote to close. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila
    Jun 20, 2012 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ Could you include something about the motivations of this notion of several variables distance? As it is, it may look like something invented just for the sake of generalization or originality in itself. But this is not how mathematics makes progress. $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2012 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to study some family of sequences of real numbers. What axioms do you think I should adopt? $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2012 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, I disagree with Pietro. Sometimes, idle creations may be due to a playful mind, and the joy of play may eventually lead to something useful too --- ok, maybe I am being somewhat optimistic :-) $\endgroup$
    – Suvrit
    Jun 20, 2012 at 17:35

3 Answers 3


One should let the properties follow from an interpretation. We didn't write down the axioms for a metric space because they're intrinsically interesting: we wrote them down because they describe the notion of distance.

One thing that certainly has been tried is to let $d(x,y,z)$ describe the area of a triangle between the three points $x,y,z$. Then the appropriate axioms are that $d$ be completely symmetric (swapping any two of $x$, $y$ and $z$ gives the same answer) and that $$d(x,y,z) \leq d(a,y,z) + d(x,a,z) + d(x,y,a).$$ In general, one could let $d(x_0,\ldots,x_n)$ be thought of as the $n$-volume of an $n$-simplex. Then the appropriate axioms are complete symmetry again, and a very similar triangle inequality (where the right-hand-side is the sum of what you get by substituting $a$ for each $x_i$).

  • $\begingroup$ @james what if we still want our generalized metric to have the notion of distance. for example we can take $d(x,y,z)$ as the sum of the sides of the triangle with vertices $x,y,z$. $\endgroup$
    – K A Khan
    Jun 20, 2012 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ Well, if you actually have a metric space, and you define $d_3(x,y,z) = d(x,y) + d(y,z) + d(z,x)$, then that function $d_3$ is completely symmetric and satisfies a bunch of inequalities. But we couldn't have guessed that this was what you wanted from your question! $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2012 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ It was just an example.what I am expecting is a structure with a metric $d_n:X^n\rightarrow \mathbb R$ with properties similar to the metric $d:X\times X\rightarrow \mathbb R$.And presently I am working on some possibilities. $\endgroup$
    – K A Khan
    Jun 21, 2012 at 8:35

Here are some comments about why one might be interested in generalizing metrics to multiple inputs. These comments, however, seem somewhat orthogonal to what the OP is looking for.

  1. Intuitive motivation: metrics are intimately related to means. So if we are willing to consider means of more than two objects at a time, we can surely consider "metric"-like multiargument functions.

  2. A more practical motivation is as follows. A metric allows us to measure a "distance" between two points. In many applications, the absolute distance is less important than relative distance. That is, questions such as $d(a,b) < d(a,c)$ are more important. Another way of speaking this is: the singleton $\lbrace a\rbrace$ is "closer" to the singleton $\lbrace b\rbrace$ than to $\lbrace c \rbrace$. This view, immediately suggests the possibility of considering more general "distance"-like functions that can characterize "closeness" between pairs, triples, or larger tuples of elements.

  3. Just like we have higher-order Hilbert spaces, which naturally generalize the concept of a dot-product to multiple arguments, one could envision higher-order metrics, and develop them axiomatically (not just norms induced by appropriate higher-order dot products).

  4. A more esoteric example from my own work. For certain strictly convex functions $\phi: X \to \mathbb{R}$, the difference \begin{equation*} s(x,y) := \frac{\phi(x)+\phi(y)}{2}-\phi\left(\frac{x+y}{2}\right) \end{equation*} is the square of a metric, which in lucky cases might in fact be a Hilbertian metric. This suggests that a limited amount of generalization is offered by considering \begin{equation*} s_n(x_1,x_2,\ldots,x_m) := \frac{\phi(x_1)+\cdots+\phi(x_m)}{m}-\phi\left(\frac{x_1+\cdots x_m}{m}\right). \end{equation*} This comment is an example of Point 1 above.


There are quite a few people who have tried to generalize metrics to more than two variables. I once tried to track down all the references on this subject for a paper. Here are some:

There is an extensive literature on 2-metrics, in which $d$ takes 3 arguments. This appears to have been introduced by Gahler. A recent example is Mustafa and Sims - A new approach to generalized metric spaces, which has some references.

What James Cranch mentions in his answer is (I think) originally due to Menger (K. Menger, Untersuchungen ├╝ber allgemeine Metrik, Math. Ann. 100.). Menger takes $d$ to be the volume of an $n$-simplex in Euclidean space. Then he tries to abstract away from that. (I can't read German so take this summary with a grain of salt.)

Three recent papers that seek such generalizations are by Deza and Rosenberg (Small cones of $m$-hemimetrics), by Chepoi and Fichet (A note on three-way dissimilarities and their relationship with two-way dissimilarities), and by Warren ($n$-way metrics).

My impression from all of these is that there is no one natural way to extend metrics to take more than 2 arguments.

  • $\begingroup$ @Paul..I have developed a way to generalize the metric to $n$ variables and used it to generalize the concept of bitopological spaces but I am not sure whether such generalizations deserve publication.I am also not sure about any such journal where I could publish my work. $\endgroup$
    – K A Khan
    Jun 21, 2012 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Kamran I guess you could look at journals that have recently published articles on bitopological spaces and try sending your work there. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2012 at 15:38

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