If $n>1$ is a positive integer Let $A_n =\{a_1,a_2,\ldots,a_n\}$ be a finite set of consecutive integers.

How many distinct sums of the form $a_j+a_k$ where $j \neq k$ are there?

Surely there are ${n \choose 2}$ entries to select from $A_n$. So a naive answer would be that there are $1,3,6,10,\ldots$ possible sums for $n$ equal to $1,2,3,4,\ldots$ respectively. But that is wrong since the set $\{9,10,11,12\}$ has distinct sums: $9+10,9+11,9+12,10+12,11+12$ noting that $10+11=9+12$. So we have $5$ distinct sums and not ${4 \choose 2}=6$.

Here is my work and my approach so far:

If $a_j$ is any element in $A_n$ other than $a_1$ then $a_j=-1+j+a_1$. To see a working example of this just consider an $A_4=\{123,124,125,126\}$, then $a(3) = -1+3+123=-1+126=125$. I construct the following sets $S_{a_{j}}=\{a_j+a_k\text{ }|\text{ } j\neq k\}$. We need to compute $$\bigg|\bigcap_{j=1}^n S_{a_{j}}\bigg|$$ Surely $|S_{a_{1}}|=n-1$. I would like to use some type of inclusion-exclusion process to get rid of the sums that occur more than once.


1 Answer 1


You can solve this simply by looking at the smallest number you can form and the largest number you can form. Let's say $\{a_1, a_2, ..., a_n\}$ is ascending. Then let $x = a_1 + a_2$ be the smallest number you can form. Let $y = a_{n-1} + a_n$ be the largest number you can form. Then you can see that you can form every number in between $x$ and $y$ (Hint: You can shift the sequence $\{a_1, a_2, ..., a_n\}$ so that it looks like $\{1, 2, ..., n\}$). Therefore, you can create $y - x + 1$ distinct numbers. Looking at our shifted values, we can create $(2n-1)-(3)+1=2n-3$ distinct numbers.

  • $\begingroup$ @user825632 this looks nice but I do not understand how this approach eliminates "overcounting". It does seems correct though. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2016 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ We are saying that we can create all numbers between x and y (including x and y) and we cannot create any other numbers. Not being able to create any other numbers makes sense - we cannot make anything smaller than x and anything larger than y. To see that we can create all numbers between x and y, we look at the shift to {1,2,...,n} and see that we can create all numbers from 3 to (2n-1) somehow. We are counting the numbers that can be created exactly once - not the ways used to create them (e.g. we count "5" once, even if we can create 5 as 1+4 or 2+3). Therefore, we are not overcounting. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2016 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ As a follow up question and not worthy of another posts - is it possible to count the multiples of any sum? For instance in the set $\{1,2,3,4,5,6,7\}$ the sum $a_j+a_k=6$ occurs twice as $1+5$ and again as $2+4$. So it has "multiplicity", $2$. On the other hand the sum equal to $7$ can be formed in $3$ different ways namely $1+6$, $2+5$ and $3+4$. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2016 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ Yes - with a set {1,2..n}, we can form 3 in one way, 4 in one way, 5 in two ways, 6 in two ways, 7 in three ways, 8 in three ways, etc. (see the pattern?) We find that we can create (n+1) in floor(n/2) ways (which is the max), and after (n+1), the number of ways will decrease symmetrically (e.g. n and (n+2) will have the same number of sums, (n-1) and (n+3) will have the same number of sums, etc). $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2016 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @user2825632 The idea behind your argument is just what kids do when they figure out what numbers can be rolled with a pair of dice, if doubles don't count. They figure out why 7 is most likely by counting with multiplicities, just as you suggest in the comment to your answer. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2016 at 23:46

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