Previously we proved a theorem due to Gabriel characterizing categories of modules as cocomplete abelian categories with a compact projective generator, where “generator” meant “every object is a colimit of finite direct sums of copies of the object.”

But we also used “generator” to mean “every object is a colimit of copies of the object,” and noted that these conditions are not equivalent: as this MO question discusses, the abelian group satisfies the first condition but not the second. More generally, as Mike Shulman explains here, there are in fact many inequivalent definitions of “generator” in category theory.

The goal of this post is to sort through a few of these definitions, which turn out to be totally ordered in strength, and find additional hypotheses under which they agree. As an application we’ll restate Gabriel’s theorem using weaker definitions of “generator” and give a more explicit description of all of the rings Morita equivalent to a given ring.