Binomial Coefficients

Binomial coefficients, often denoted as C(n, k) or "n choose k," are fundamental combinatorial quantities that arise in various areas of mathematics and science. They represent the number of ways to choose 'k' elements from a set of 'n' distinct elements. Here are essential study notes on binomial coefficients:

Definition of Binomial Coefficients

  • Binomial coefficients, denoted as C(n, k), are defined as follows:

    C(n, k) = n! / (k! * (n - k)!)


    • 'n!' (n factorial) is the product of all positive integers from 1 to 'n': n! = n × (n - 1) × (n - 2) × ... × 2 × 1.
    • 'k!' (k factorial) is the product of all positive integers from 1 to 'k'.
    • 'n - k' factorial is similarly defined.


  • Binomial coefficients have several interpretations, including:
    1. Combinatorial Interpretation: C(n, k) represents the number of ways to choose 'k' elements from a set of 'n' elements without regard to the order. It's the number of combinations.

    2. Pascal's Triangle: Binomial coefficients form Pascal's Triangle, a triangular array where each number is the sum of the two numbers above it. The first row is [1], the second row is [1, 1], and so on.

    3. Probability: In probability, C(n, k) represents the probability of obtaining 'k' successes in 'n' independent Bernoulli trials, each with a probability of success 'p'.

    4. Algebraic Expressions: Binomial coefficients appear in the expansion of binomial expressions, such as (a+b)n.

    5. Counting Paths: In combinatorics, C(n, k) can represent the number of paths from one point to another on a grid, where only two types of moves are allowed (up and right).

Properties of Binomial Coefficients

  • Symmetry: C(n, k) = C(n, n - k). Binomial coefficients exhibit symmetry, which is a direct consequence of the combinatorial interpretation.

  • Identity: C(n, k) + C(n, k + 1) = C(n + 1, k + 1). This identity arises from the Pascal's Triangle and reflects the recursive nature of binomial coefficients.

  • Sum of a Row: The sum of all binomial coefficients in the nth row of Pascal's Triangle is equal to 2n.

  • Triangle Pattern: Binomial coefficients form a triangular pattern where each entry is the sum of the two numbers directly above it.

  • Zero Outside Bounds: C(n, k) = 0 when k < 0 or k > n, as there are no ways to choose 'k' elements from 'n' if 'k' is outside this range.


Binomial coefficients have wide-ranging applications in various fields, including:

  • Combinatorics for counting and enumeration problems.
  • Probability and statistics, particularly in the binomial distribution.
  • Algebra, for expanding binomial expressions.
  • Calculus, in Taylor series expansions and power series representations of functions.
  • Geometry and graph theory for counting paths and structures.
  • Number theory and combinatorial identities.