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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 1974
  • Online publication date: August 2012

17 - Symmetric graphs


The condition of vertex-transitivity is not a very powerful one, as is demonstrated by the fact that we can construct at least one vertex-transitive graph from each finite group, by means of the Cayley graph construction. A vertex-transitive graph is symmetric if and only if each vertex-stabilizer Gv acts transitively on the set of vertices adjacent to v. For example, there are just two distinct 3-regular graphs with 6 vertices; one is K3,3 and the other is the ladder L3. Both these graphs are vertex-transitive, and K3,3 is symmetric, but L3 is not because there are two ‘kinds’ of edges at each vertex.

Although the property of being symmetric is apparently only slightly stronger than vertex-transitivity, symmetric graphs do have distinctive properties which are not shared by all vertex-transitive graphs. This was first demonstrated by Tutte (1947a) in the case of 3-regular graphs. More recently his results have been extended to graphs of higher degree, and it has become apparent that the results are closely related to fundamental classification theorems in group theory. (See 17a, 17f, 17g.)

We begin by defining a t-arc [α] in a graph Г to be a sequence (α0, α1,…, αt) of t + 1 vertices of Г, with the properties that {αi−1, αi} is in EГ for 1 ≤ it, and αi−1 ≠ αi+1 for 1 ≤ it − 1. A t-arc is not quite the same thing as the sequence of vertices underlying a path of length t, because it is convenient to allow repeated vertices.