The derived group, in a sense, gives a measure of how far G is from being abelian; the larger G^{1}, the "less abelian" G is. In particular, G^{1} is equal to {1} if and only if the group G is abelian.
If f : G > H is a group homomorphism, then f(G^{1}) is a subset of H^{1}, because f maps commutators to commutators. This implies that the operation of forming derived groups is a functor from the category of groups to the category of groups.
Applying this to endomorphisms f, we find that G^{1} is a fully characteristic subgroup of G, and in particular a normal subgroup of G. The quotient G/G^{1} is an abelian group sometimes called G made abelian, or the abelianization of G. In a sense, it is the abelian group that's "closest" to G, which can be expressed by the following universal property: if p : G > G/G^{1} is the canonical projection, and f : G > A is any homomorphism from G to an abelian group A, then there exists exactly one homomorphism s : G/G^{1} > A such that s o p = f. In the language of category theory: the functor which assigns to every group its abelianization is left adjoint to the forgetful functor which assigns to every abelian group its underlying group.
In particular, a quotient G/N of G is abelian if and only if N includes G^{1}.
A group is called perfect if it is equal to its derived group.
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