We present a recursive construction for difference sets which unifies the Hadamard, McFarland, and Spence parameter families and deals with all abelian groups known to contain such difference sets. The construction yields a new family of difference sets with parameters (v, k, λ,n)=(22d+4(22d+2−1)/3, 22d+1(22d+3+1)/3, 22d+1(22d+1+1)/3, 24d+2) for d⩾0. The construction establishes that a McFarland difference set exists in an abelian group of order 22d+3(22d+1+1)/3 if and only if the Sylow 2-subgroup has exponent at most 4. The results depend on a second recursive construction, for semi-regular relative difference sets with an elementary abelian forbidden subgroup of order pr. This second construction deals with all abelian groups known to contain such relative difference sets and significantly improves on previous results, particularly for r>1. We show that the group order need not be a prime power when the forbidden subgroup has order 2. We also show that the group order can grow without bound while its Sylow p-subgroup has fixed rank and that this rank can be as small as 2r. Both of the recursive constructions generalise to nonabelian groups.

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Copyright © 1997, Elsevier. This article first appeared in Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Series A: 80:1 (1997), 13-78.

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