In this paper we study the question of which groups act freely on R-trees. The paper has two parts. The first part concerns groups which contain a non-cyclic, abelian subgroup. The following is the main result in this case.
Let the finitely presented group G act freely on an R-tree. If A is a non-cyclic, abelian subgroup of G, then A is contained in an abelian subgroup A′ which is a free factor of G.
The second part of the paper concerns groups whch split as an HNN-extension along an infinite cyclic group. Here is one formulation of our main result in that case.
Let the finitely presented group G act freely on an R-tree. If G has an HNN-decomposition
where (s) is infinite cyclic, then there is a subgroup H′ ⊂ H such that either
(a) ; or
(b) , where S is a closed surface of non-positive Euler characteristic.
A slightly different, more precise result is also given.