I have just finished highschool and have started learning on my own some combinatorics and how to do proofs, and while messing around with sums and Pascal's triangle I found an interesting yet trivial property that I tried to prove. I'm assuming that it has already been found, but I couldn't find anything mentioning it.
So my questions are: Is my proof correct? Has this property been found already? What can this property be used for?

Let $$f(x,n)= \sum_{i_1=1}^n \sum_{i_2=1}^{i_1} \sum_{i_3=1}^{i_2} \cdots \sum_{i_x=1}^{i_{x-1}}i_x \ $$ where $x$ is the number of sigma sums.

My conjecture is that $$f(x,n)={n+x \choose x+1}$$

Proof by induction

Basis step:
$$\begin{align} f(1,n) &=\sum_{i=1}^ni\\ &=\frac{n(n+1)}{2}\\ &={n+1 \choose 2} \end{align}$$ The basis step works. This first result is already proven for all n.

Inductive step: Assume that $f(x,n)= {n+x \choose x+1} $

Now, $$\begin{align}f(x+1,n) &=\sum_{m=1}^n \sum_{i_1=1}^{m} \sum_{i_2=1}^{i_1} \cdots \sum_{i_x=1}^{i_{x-1}}i_x\\ &=\sum_{m=1}^n f(x,m)\\ &=\sum_{m=1}^n {m+x \choose x+1}\\ &=\sum_{l=0}^{n-1}{l+1+x \choose x+1}\\ &={n+x+1 \choose x+2}\\ \end{align}$$ Therefore, if $f(x,n)$ holds, then $f(x+1,n)$ holds.
What I am not sure about is whether I have to use induction to prove that this property holds for every integer $n$ as well,

  • $\begingroup$ This is indeed correct! (Even verified it for some test cases just to be extra sure.) $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2016 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ In the phrase "where $x$ is the number of sigma sums.", why did you use a capital rather than lower-case "W" in "Where"? That seems to be done ninety-percent of the time both here and in Wikipedia, and it doesn't make sense since it's not the beginning of a new sentence. $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2016 at 5:06
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Congratulations on working through this and producing a proof. It doesn't matter if the result is already widely known or not. The important thing is that you did it yourself. Being taught mathematics is a pointless occupation. Constructing mathematics yourself is the way to go. Find teachers to guide your discovery so that you don't bang your head against too many walls, and you will become a fine mathematician $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2016 at 5:14

1 Answer 1


The proof is correct since you can treat $n$ as fixed. You don't have to induct on $n$ since your base case holds for all $n$. If your base case had been $x=n=0$, then yes, you would have to induct on $n$ as well.

However, there is also a simpler way to prove this identity. First, let's rewrite it slightly:

$$f(x, n) = \sum_{i_1=1}^n \sum_{i_2=1}^{i_1} \sum_{i_3=1}^{i_2} \cdots \sum_{i_x=1}^{i_{x-1}} \sum_{i_{x+1}=1}^{i_x}1$$

Now, notice that this counts the number of ways to choose $i_1, i_2, \ldots, i_{x+1}$ such that $1 \le i_{x+1} \le i_x \le \ldots \le i_1 \le n$. But by Stars and Bars (also known as multichoose), this is just $\binom{n+x}{x+1}$ as desired.


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