Question states: "Let $D_n$ denote the determinant of the $n$-by-$n$ matrix whose $(i,j)$th element (the element in the $i$th row and $j$th column) is the absolute value of the difference between $i$ and $j$. Show that $D_n = (-1)^{n-1}(n-1)2^{n-2}$."

It seems like that I can get a recurrence relation (especially the question was from a book chapter dealing with recursion). In trying to get a recurrence relation, here is what I have done so far:

(Let $R_k$ denote the $k$th row and let $(i,j)$ denote the element/spot of $i$th row and $j$th spot)

1) replace $R_1$ with $R_1-(R_2+R_{n-1})$ to get $R_1^*$

2) replace $R_1^*$ with $R_1^*+R_{n-2}$

3) If I am not mistaken, I should have $-2$ on $(1,1)$, $2$ on both $(1,n-1)$ and $(1,n)$, and all other element in the first row as $0$.

4) take out $2$ from the first row, and expand the determinant about the first row

5) I should have $D_n=2(-D_{n-1}+(-1)^n B_{n-1})$, where $B_{n-1}$ is the determinant of a not-easily-reducible mayrix whose last column consists of $n-1$ ones followed by one $-1$.

How should I go about from now on? Once I get a recurrence relation, it would be pretty easy to get the explicit formula for $D_n$ using induction.

P.S. This question apparently is a question taken from 1969 Putnam Competition

  • $\begingroup$ 1) For reference, such a matrix is constant along its diagonals and so is a Toeplitz matrix. 2) If one can find the eigenvectors of $D_n$, then the determinant is the product of the eigenvalues. So if these can be found by inspection, then the determinant can be computed directly. $\endgroup$ Jan 2, 2017 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ If you say that is Putnam, then you also have the solution here $\endgroup$
    – Momo
    Jan 2, 2017 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ In general, if $A=((a_{ij}))^{n\times n}$ such that $a_{ij}=|x_i-x_j|$ where $x_1\le x_2\le...\le x_n\in\mathbb{R}$, then it can be shown that $\det A=2^{n-2}(x_n-x_1)\prod_{i=1}^{n-1}(x_i-x_{i+1})$ effectively by the two successive operations $C_i'=C_i-C_{i+1}$ for $i=1,2,...,n-1$ and $R_i'=R_i+R_1$ for $i=2,3,...,n$. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2017 at 18:34

1 Answer 1


As I said in the comments, the solution is here. I am copying it on this page just in case the referencing page gets deleted.

For $i = 1, 2, 3, ... , n-2$ subtract twice row $i+1$ from row $i$ and add row $i+2$ to row $i$. For $i < n-1$, row $i$ becomes all $0$s except for a $2$ in column $i+1$.

Now expand successively by the first, second, third ... rows to get $(-2)n-2$ times the $2 \times 2$ determinant with first row $n-2, 1$ and second row $n-1, 0$. This $2 \times 2$ determinant has value $-(n-1)$, so $|A| = (-1)^{n-1} (n-1) 2^{n-2}$.

  • $\begingroup$ After doing the operations to the original matrix I got $\begin{pmatrix} 0& 2&0&0&.&.&...&0\\ 0&0&2&0&.&.&...&0\\ 0&0&0&2&.&.&...&0\\ .&.&.&.&.&....&.\\ .&.&.&.&.&.0&2&0\\ n-2&n-3&n-4&.&.&1&0&1\\ n-1&n-2&n-3&.&.&2&1&0 \end{pmatrix}$ Then how do we get "$(-2)n-2$ times the $2\times 2$ determinant ....." $\endgroup$
    – Priya
    Feb 4, 2021 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think I got it. $\endgroup$
    – Priya
    Feb 4, 2021 at 1:11

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