# Does an on-shell symmetry necessarily change the Lagrangian by a total derivative?

This is a follow-up question to: Does a symmetry necessarily leave the action invariant?

Qmechanic writes here:

Here the word off-shell means that the Lagrangian eqs. of motion are not assumed to hold under the specific variation. If we assume the Lagrangian eqs. of motion to hold, any variation of the Lagrangian is trivially a total derivative.

Qmechanic writes here:

if an action (1) has a quasi-symmetry, then the EOM (2) must have a symmetry (wrt. the same transformation).

1. What exactly is an off-shell symmetry? I'm now confused. Does it mean that the action changes by a boundary term but despite that, the transformation does not necessarily map a solution of the EOM to a solution of the EOM? That seems to contradict the second quote---or does it?

2. What is the proof of the "trivial" fact that for an on-shell symmetry, the Lagrangian necessarily changes by a total derivative?

• 1. Qmechanic nowhere uses the terms "off-shell symmetry", so I don't know what you're asking here? 2. Look at the derivation of the E-L equations. Their solutions are precisely the points where the infinitesimal variations do not change the action, hence only change the Lagrangian by a total derivative. Feb 16, 2015 at 0:03
• @ACuriousMind Actually Qmechanic says "(off-shell) quasisymmetry". My bad. Feb 16, 2015 at 0:06
• @BrianBi I saw explanation of the meaning of on and off-shell, and I saw their use in connection with Noether's theorem. Feb 16, 2015 at 0:18

1. Concerning the notion of on-shell and off-shell, see also Wikipedia and this Phys.SE post. In the context of an action formulation, on-shell means that the Euler-Lagrange (EL) equations $$\tag{1} \frac{\delta S}{\delta\phi^{\alpha}(x)}~\approx~0$$ are satisfied.
3. Normally one does not stress the word off-shell in an off-shell quasi-symmetry. It is usually just called a quasi-symmetry. This is because an on-shell quasi-symmetry [i.e. the property that the action at most changes with a boundary term when the EL equations are satisfied] is a tautology. It is always true. That's essentially because of how the EL equations were defined in the first place. In detail, an arbitrary infinitesimal variation of the action is of the form $$\tag{2} \delta S ~\sim~\int\! d^nx~\frac{\delta S}{\delta\phi^{\alpha}(x)}~\delta_0\phi^{\alpha}~\approx~0.$$ Here the $\sim$ ($\approx$) symbol means equality modulo boundary terms (EL equations), respectively.
5. As to why an off-shell quasi-symmetry of the action $S$ induces a corresponding symmetry on the EL equations (1), see e.g this Phys.SE post.
• $\uparrow$ Yes. Feb 16, 2015 at 14:46