As the title states, I am asked to prove that a directed graph $G=(V,E)$ is strongly connected iff for all non-empty subsets $\emptyset \neq S \subset V$, the cut $\delta(S) \neq\emptyset$, where $$\delta(S)= \left\{ (u,v)\in E \mid u \in S,\; v\in V \setminus S \right\}.$$

I've shown that if $G$ is strongly connected, there has to be atleast 1 (possibly 2) edges in $\delta(S)$ for any $\emptyset \neq S\subset V$ which is one side of the proof.

However, when approaching the other side, I cant seem to find any intuition on how to start the proof, I just cant seem to understand what information I can deduce from the fact that there are edges which cross every non-trivial cut (basically the same as saying that $\delta (S)\neq\emptyset $ for all $\emptyset\neq S\subset V$)

(I've proven the first direction by showing that since $S$ is not empty and $G$ is strongly connected, there has to be an edge from a vertex which is not in $S$ to a vertex in $S$, thus showing that $\delta(S)$ is not empty)


2 Answers 2


You can prove the existence of a path between any $u$ and $v$ vertices using the following process:

  • set $S = \{u\}$;
  • while $S \neq V$ do
    • for each $(x, y)\in \delta(S)$, add $y$ to $S$

The property "all vertices in $S$ are reachable from $u$" is a loop invariant for the while loop.

If you suppose that $\delta(S)\neq \emptyset$ for all non-trivial $S$, that means that the size of $S$ increases each loop, and the loop halts if and only if $S = V$.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate about the invariant? I can’t seem to understand how it leads to the graph being strongly connected, once the loop ends $\endgroup$
    – Aishgadol
    Dec 25, 2022 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ It shows that all vertices of $V$ are reachable from $u$. Do it for any vertex $u\in V$, and you would have proven that the graph is strongly connected. $\endgroup$
    – Nathaniel
    Dec 25, 2022 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ What bothers me is that there could be a 'situation' where we start with some $u\in V$ s.t. $S=\{ u \}$ but eventually, reach a state where the edges in $\delta (S)$ are only directing into $S$, which means we dont have a vertex we could add to $S$ which is reachable from a vertex $u \in S$ and then we're basically stuck, not being able to show the graph is strongly connected $\endgroup$
    – Aishgadol
    Dec 26, 2022 at 8:12
  • $\begingroup$ By definition, edges in $\delta(S)$ are from a vertex in $S$ to a vertex not in $S$, so that situation is not possible. $\endgroup$
    – Nathaniel
    Dec 26, 2022 at 11:49

For the sake of a contradiction, assume the graph is not strongly connected. If a graph is not strongly connected, then there is a pair $u$ and $v$ such that there is no path from $u$ to $v$.

Let $R(u)$ be the reachability set of $u$, i.e. the vertices reachable from $u$.

Now, since $v \notin R(u)$, it means that $S = R(u) \subset V$ with $\delta(S) = \emptyset$ contradicting the assumption that every non-trivial cut is nonempty.

Our only assumption was that the graph was not strongly connected which then must be false. The graph is strongly connected.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your explanation, I seem to have missed a massive information piece which states that all edges in $\delta (S)$ are directed from $S$ to $V/S$, and since (as you've mentioned) $\delta (S) \neq \emptyset$ , there's always an edge of which we can add the end-point vertex into $S$, and keep $S$ strongly connected. $\endgroup$
    – Aishgadol
    Dec 26, 2022 at 10:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, $\delta(S)$ is the set of outgoing edges, i.e. going from a vertex inside $S$ to a vertex outside of $S$. $\endgroup$
    – Pål GD
    Dec 26, 2022 at 11:11

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