I was given a proof of the divergence of the harmonic series, but I can't fully understand it (I found other ones that I find exhaustuve, so the problem is not trying to understand why the series diverges)

Here is the proof:

Having: $\frac{1}{x-1}+\frac{1}{x}+\frac{1}{x+1}\gt\frac{3}{x}$ for $x\gt1$

Let be $$S=\sum_{n=1}^\infty \frac1n\lt\infty$$

$$S=1+\frac12+\frac13+\frac14+\frac15+\frac16+\frac17+...$$ $$S = 1+\frac{1}{3-1}+\frac{1}{3}+\frac{1}{3+1}+\frac{1}{6-1}+\frac{1}{6}+\frac{1}{6+1}+...$$

Now, using the previous inequality

$$S\gt1+3(\frac13+\frac16+\frac19+...) =1+1+\frac12+\frac13+...=1+S$$

So we get at the end $S\gt1+S$, as a consequence S can't be finite.

My question is if it is possible to treat an infinite sum like that.

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can make the proof rigorous by summing a finite number of terms, as a function of $n$. Then if you can show $S_n<S_n+1$, this holds in the limit. But it seems that in fact you don't establish $S_n<S_n+1$ but $S_n<1+S_{3n}$ or something. $\endgroup$ – Yves Daoust Jan 20 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, i mistyped the greater/less than, I meant $S\gt1+S$ at the end. Now I've adjusted it. $\endgroup$ – Royolh Jan 20 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ Keep the spirit of my answer. $\endgroup$ – Yves Daoust Jan 20 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ By working with a finite number of terms I can only establish that $S_n\gt1+S_\frac{n-1}{3}$ So I guess the proof is not valid because you don't get an absurd. $\endgroup$ – Royolh Jan 20 at 10:44

Though clever, this manipulation is not rigorous. A series converges if the limit of the partial sums converges. If we consider the $7^{\text{th}}$ partial sum, like you did, we do have


but this is not

$$S_7>1+S_7.$$ Instead, it establishes $$S_7>1+S_2$$ which generalizes to $$S_{3n+1}>1+S_n$$ and this not enough to prove divergence.

The situation is different with the classical proof by groups of doubling sizes,

$$1+\frac12+\frac13+\frac14+\frac15+\frac16+\frac17+\frac18>1+\frac12+\frac14+\frac14+\frac18+\frac18+\frac18+\frac18 \\=1+\frac12+\frac12+\frac12$$


$$S_9>1+\frac{3}2,$$ which generalizes to $$S_{2^n+1}>1+\frac{n}2$$




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