Consider the following family of polynomials

$$P_n(X)=\sum_{i=0}^n(n+1-i)X^i,\,n\ge 1$$

Let’s write down the first few

$$ \begin{align} &P_1(X)=X+2\\ &P_2(X)=X^2+2X+3\\ &P_3(X)=X^3+2X^2+3X+4\\ &P_4(X)=X^4+2X^3+3X^2+4X+5 \end{align} $$

My claim is that this family is a family of irreducible polynomials in $\Bbb{Z}[X]$.

I proved it for $n \le 5$ by the Eisenstein criterion after the change of variable $X=t+1$

For $n=6$ after the change of variable the polynomial writes as follows


and the Eisenstein criterion (only workable $p=2$) doesn’t work anymore.

By reducing $\bmod 7$ we prove the claim for $n=6$.

I tested with Mathematica and irreducibility is checked for $n\le 150$.

I noticed


But I am struggling to find a generic proof. I have given up on counterexample. Thanks for your help.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Their reciprocals are derivatives of simpler polynomials, but why would that help? $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ Speaking of reciprocals: note that $P_n(X)+X^nP_n(1/X)=(n+2)\sum_{i=0}^nX^i$ $\endgroup$
    – RMWGNE96
    May 8, 2019 at 11:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Here is the question dealing with mentioned prime constant coefficient: Explain proof of irreducibility of $x^{p-1} + 2x^{p-2} \dots (p-1)x + p$ $\endgroup$
    – Sil
    May 13, 2019 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


This is not a complete answer, but summarizes three provable cases. For simplicity (and better familiarity with existing posts), let $f_n(x)=x^{n-1}+2x^{n-2}+\dots+(n-1)x+n$.

Case 1: $n+1$ is a prime. As you have noticed, in many cases we can use Eisenstein criterion for $f_n(x+1)$. We can show that this will work when $n+1$ is a prime. We have $$ f_n(x+1)=\sum_{i=0}^{n-1}(n-i)(x+1)^i=\sum_{i=0}^{n-1}(n-i)\sum_{j=0}^{i}\binom{i}{j}x^j=\sum_{j=0}^{n-1}\sum_{i=j}^{n-1}(n-i)\binom{i}{j}x^j $$ and the coefficient at $x^j$ is $$[x^j]f_n(x+1)=\sum_{i=j}^{n-1}(n-i)\binom{i}{j}=\sum_{i=0}^{n-1}(n-i)\binom{i}{j}=\binom{n+1}{j+2}$$

Now having $p=n+1$ a prime, we have $p \mid \binom{n+1}{j+2}$ for $j+2<n+1$, i.e. $j<n-1$. Also for $j=0$ the coefficient becomes $\binom{n+1}{2}=\frac{n}{2}(n+1)$ and it is clearly divisible by $p$ but not by $p^2$, so the polynomial satisfies conditions of Eisenstein criterion for $p$ and is therefore irreducible.

Case 2: $n$ is a prime. The irreducibility can be also shown for $n$ being a prime as discussed in comments. The idea is that all complex roots of the $f_n(x)$ lie outside of the unit circle in a complex plane, which can be shown by looking at roots of $(x-1)f_n(x)=x^n+x^{n-1}+\dots+x-n$. Then having $f_n(x)=p(x)q(x)$ with $n$ prime implies that without loss of generality we can take $p(x)$ such that $|p(0)|=1$. But $|p(0)|=\prod |x_k|>1$ gives a contradiction. More details on this can be found here Explain proof of irreducibility of $x^{p-1} + 2x^{p-2}+ \dots +(p-1)x + p$.

Case 3: $n$ is a prime power. The previous case argument can be modified to work on any prime power. Say we have $n=p^k$, and $f_n(x)=g(x)h(x)$ where coefficients of $g(x),h(x)$ are $a_i$,$b_i$ respectively. For constant coeficient we have $n=p^k=a_0b_0$, so $a_0$ and $b_0$ are non-negative powers of $p$. Then for linear coefficient of $f_n(x)$ we have $n-1=a_1b_0+a_0b_1$. Since $(n-1,n)=1$, one of $a_0,b_0$ must be equal $\pm 1$, say $a_0$. Finally, again as in previous case we reach contradiction by looking at $|g(0)|=\prod |x_k|>1$.

Remaining cases are problematic and I could not find anything about this in literature or prove it. I've tried to get more by looking at the roots but it did not get me much, here is at least an observation I stumbled upon - all complex roots of the polynomial lie in annulus $1<|x_k|<\sqrt[n]{2n+1}$. First inequality is already proven above. For the second inequality notice that $(x-1)^2f_n(x)=x^{n+1}-(n+1)x+n$, and so for a root $z$ we have $$n=|z^{n+1}-(n+1)z|=|z||z^n-(n+1)|.$$ Now being interested only in roots $|z|>1$, this gives $n>|z^n-(n+1)|$, which geometrically means that $z^n$ distance from $n+1$ is less than $n$, so especially $|z^n|<n+1+n$, from which we have $|z|<\sqrt[n]{2n+1}$.

Hopefully someone in the future will have an idea on the remaining cases, but notice that this problem was posted in Putnam and there it was only for $n$ being prime, so this seems like a hard problem.

Update: Literature reference

Okay I have managed to find a reference related to the problem, specifically see Classes of polynomials having only one non-cyclotomic irreducible factor by A. Borisov, M. Filaseta, T. Y. Lam and O. Trifonov (http://matwbn.icm.edu.pl/ksiazki/aa/aa90/aa9023.pdf). It states a conjecture about $f(x)=1+x+x^2+\dots+x^n$, then $f'(x)=1+2x+\dots+nx^{n-1}$ being irreducible for all $n \geq 2$, but that is just a reciprocal of $f_n(x)$, so it is equivalent to this problem. It states that the irreducibility has been proven previously for $n=p-1$ or $n=p^r$, and furthermore also when $n+1$ is squarefree or $n=2p-1$. Then the paper itself claims additional results, specifically:

Theorem 1. Let $\varepsilon > 0$. For all but $O(t^{1/3+\varepsilon})$ positive integers $n \leq t$, the derivative of the polynomial $f(x)=1+x+x^2+\dots+x^n$ is irreducible.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks !! Very helpful $\endgroup$
    – marwalix
    May 19, 2019 at 10:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @marwalix You're welcome. Too bad I cannot prove it for all $n$, but this is typical for most of the polynomial families... $\endgroup$
    – Sil
    May 19, 2019 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ Something is wrong for $n=6$, $n+1=7$ is prime. The coefficient of $x^5$ is $8$ and according to your formula it should be $1$. As soon as I am home I will check $\endgroup$
    – marwalix
    May 19, 2019 at 10:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @marwalix For $n=6$ we get the polynomial $x^5+2x^4+3x^3+4x^2+5x+6$, and for $x+1$ this is $x^5+7x^4+21x^3+35x^2+35x+21$, so that is correct (remember I have written $f_n(x)=x^{n-1}+2x^{n-2}+\dots+(n-1)x+n$, while your original problem used shifted $n$). $\endgroup$
    – Sil
    May 19, 2019 at 10:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @marwalix Added one more case that was easy to prove, but more importantly added reference to this problem in literature which describes the known cases (there are few more than proven here). $\endgroup$
    – Sil
    Dec 17, 2019 at 11:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .