Binomial Coefficient

The binomial coefficient is a fundamental concept in combinatorics, often symbolized as (nk)\binom{n}{k}. It's used to calculate the number of ways to choose kk items from a larger set of nn items, regardless of the order of selection. Let's delve into this concept, starting from the basics.

Definition and Formula:

The binomial coefficient (nk)\binom{n}{k} is defined as:

(nk)=n!k!(nk)!\binom{n}{k} = \frac{n!}{k!(n - k)!}

Here, n!n! denotes the factorial of nn, which is the product of all positive integers up to nn. Similarly, k!k! is the factorial of kk.

Understanding the Components:

  1. n!n!: This represents the total number of ways to arrange nn items in order.
  2. k!k!: Since we are choosing kk items, their order of selection doesn't matter. There are k!k! ways to arrange kk items, so dividing by k!k! removes the order consideration for the chosen items.
  3. (nk)!(n - k)!: This represents the arrangement of the remaining nkn - k items. Dividing by (nk)!(n - k)! accounts for the fact that the order of these unchosen items is also irrelevant.

Practical Example:

Consider a scenario where you have 5 books (i.e., n=5n = 5 ) and you want to choose 2 (i.e., k=2k = 2 ) of them. The binomial coefficient (52)\binom{5}{2} calculates how many different pairs of books can be chosen:

(52)=5!2!(52)!=5×42×1=10\binom{5}{2} = \frac{5!}{2!(5 - 2)!} = \frac{5 \times 4}{2 \times 1} = 10

Properties of Binomial Coefficients:

  1. Symmetry: (nk)=(nnk)\binom{n}{k} = \binom{n}{n - k}. This symmetry is due to the interchangeable roles of the chosen and unchosen items.
  2. Boundary Values: (n0)=(nn)=1\binom{n}{0} = \binom{n}{n} = 1. Choosing none or all items from a set results in only one possible outcome.
  3. Pascal's Triangle: Each number in Pascal's Triangle is a binomial coefficient, and the triangle provides a visual and arithmetic method to compute these coefficients.


Binomial coefficients are widely used in combinatorics, probability, and statistics. They are essential in calculations involving permutations and combinations, and in the binomial theorem, which describes the algebraic expansion of powers of a binomial.


In summary, the binomial coefficient (nk)\binom{n}{k} is a key mathematical tool for counting combinations. It encapsulates a fundamental principle of selection where the order of items is irrelevant, and its versatility makes it invaluable in various fields of mathematics and science.