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Someone asked me for a formula for the sum of the harmonic progression. So I did some calculations and gave him an approximate formula:

$$\int_1^n\frac{dx}{x} = \frac{y_1 + y_2}{2} + \frac{y_2 + y_3}{2} + \cdots +\frac{y_{n-1} + y_n}{2}$$ where $y_i$ is $i$th term of the HP $$\ln(n) = \frac{y_1}{2} + y_2 +y_3 + \cdots +\frac{y_n}{2}$$


$$\sum_{i=1}^n y_i = \ln(n) + \frac{y_1 + y_n}{2}$$

e.g. $1+1/2+\cdots+1/10 = 2.8525 $

actual result $= 2.9289$

My question is, how to correct this formula?

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in my opinion the sum of nth term of harmonic series cannot be accurately defined!! – user60642 Feb 2 '13 at 7:13
up vote 13 down vote accepted

The partial sums of the harmonic series are called "harmonic numbers." The difference between the nth harmonic number and ln(n) tends to a limit as n increases, and that limit is called Euler's constant or gamma.

There's a great book about all this called Gamma: Exploring Euler's Constant.

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It's not Euluer its Euler. – anonymous Aug 12 '10 at 16:35
Thanks. I corrected the typo. – John D. Cook Aug 13 '10 at 0:42
@anonymous It's not its it's it's. – Lee Sleek May 30 '13 at 22:26

A good quick approximation: $\log(n + 0.5) + \gamma$.

A yet more accurate approximation: $\log(n)+\gamma+1/2z+1/12z^2-1/120z^4+1/252z^6-1/240z^8+1/132z^{10}-691/32760z^{12}+\cdots$, taking as many terms as is convenient.

Error analysis:

The first formula above has maximum error of $1/24n^2$. uday's first answer has error of about 0.0024 ln n. Mine is a better approximation for all $n\neq6$.

The first formula is also better than uday's revised formula for all $n\ge46$. The expected error in uday's answer is about 0.000016.

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Hey guys.... There is no correct simple general formula for sum to n terms of the series 1+1/2+1/3+1/4+ ............. + 1/n

but the following formula will be a good approximation for sum to n-terms of the above series when n>5

S = log(n+0.5) + 0.5772 + 0.04021/(n*n + 0.8848)

Deviation from the actual value fluctuates but remains relatively low..

so i guess this may be a good approximation

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it would be interesting to see how you found these numbers if they are not just experimentally determined. – anon Oct 13 '10 at 17:55
@muad: To get close to the best approximation with constants in those places, 1.841 should be about $\exp(\gamma)$, 0.9973 should be about 1, and 0.6184 should be about 1/2. – Charles Oct 13 '10 at 18:19
@muad: Hi... i have taken values of n from 1 to 1000000 and found the values of S. Using curvefitting tool in matlab i came to that formula... – uday kiran Oct 20 '10 at 11:21
@charls: Hi... i totally agree with you but for smaller values of n,log(n+0.5)+γ has significant amount of error.. so for about n=30 my formula will give a better approximation... – uday kiran Oct 20 '10 at 11:25
@uday kiran: Your new formula is worse than my simple formula for all n > 45. – Charles Oct 24 '10 at 23:55

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