If x is nilpotent, then 1 − x is a unit, because xn = 0 entails
More generally, the sum of a unit element and a nilpotent element is a unit when they commute.
The nilpotent elements from a commutative ring form an ideal; this is a consequence of the binomial theorem. This ideal is the nilradical of the ring. Every nilpotent element in a commutative ring is contained in every prime ideal of that ring, since . So is contained in the intersection of all prime ideals.
If is not nilpotent, we are able to localize with respect to the powers of : to get a non-zero ring . The prime ideals of the localized ring correspond exactly to those prime ideals of with . As every non-zero commutative ring has a maximal ideal, which is prime, every non-nilpotent is not contained in some prime ideal. Thus is exactly the intersection of all prime ideals.
A characteristic similar to that of Jacobson radical and annihilation of simple modules is available for nilradical: nilpotent elements of ring R are precisely those that annihilate all integral domains internal to the ring R (that is, of the form R/I for prime ideals I). This follows from the fact that nilradical is the intersection of all prime ideals.
As linear operators form an associative algebra and thus a ring, this is a special case of the initial definition. More generally, in view of the above definitions, an operator Q is nilpotent if there is such that Qn = 0 (the zero function). Thus, a linear map is nilpotent iff it has a nilpotent matrix in some basis. Another example for this is the exterior derivative (again with ). Both are linked, also through supersymmetry and Morse theory, as shown by Edward Witten in a celebrated article.