# 7.2: Permutations and Combinations

- Page ID
- 1635

Learning Objectives

- Discusses the basics of combinations and permutations, and how to calculate the probability of certain events, such as n-bit errors in a codeword.

The lottery "game" consists of picking

Answering such questions occurs in many applications beyond games. In digital communications, for example, you might ask how many possible double-bit errors can occur in a codeword. Numbering the bit positions from **1 **to **N**, the answer is the same as the lottery problem with **k=6**. Solving these kind of problems amounts to understanding **permutations** - the number of ways of choosing things when order matters as in baseball lineups - and **combinations** - the number of ways of choosing things when order does not matter as in lotteries and bit errors.

Calculating permutations is the easiest. If we are to pick **k **numbers from a pool of **n**, we have **n **choices for the first one. For the second choice, we have **n-1**. The number of length-two ordered sequences is therefore be **n(n-1)**. Continuing to choose until we make **k **choices means the number of permutations is

\[n(n-1)(n-2)...(n-k+1)\]

This result can be written in terms of factorials as

\[\frac{n!}{(n-k)!}\]

with

\[n!=n(n-1)(n-2)...1\]

For mathematical convenience, we define **0!=1**.

When order does not matter, the number of combinations equals the number of permutations divided by the number of orderings. The number of ways a pool of **k **things can be ordered equals **k!**. Thus, once we choose the nine starters for our baseball game, we have

\[9!=362,880\]

different lineups! The symbol for the combination of **k **things drawn from a pool of **n **is

\[\binom{n}{k}\]

and equals

\[\frac{n!}{(n-k)!k!}\]

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

What are the chances of winning the lottery? Assume you pick **6** numbers from the numbers **1-60**.

**Solution**

\[\binom{60}{6}=\frac{60!}{54!6!}=50,063,860\]

Combinatorials occur in interesting places. For example, Newton derived that the **n**-th power of a sum obeyed the formula

\[(x+y)^{n}=\binom{n}{0}x^{n}+\binom{n}{1}x^{n-1}y+\binom{n}{2}x^{n-2}y^{2}+...+\binom{n}{n}y^{n}\]

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

What does the sum of binomial coefficients equal? In other words, what is

\[\sum_{k=0}^{n}\binom{n}{k}\]

**Solution**

Because of Newton's binomial theorem, the sum equals

\[(1+1)^{n}=2^{n}\]

A related problem is calculating the probability that **any** two bits are in error in a length-

\[p^{2}(1-p)^{n-2}\]

The probability of a two-bit error occurring anywhere equals this probability times the number of combinations:

\[\binom{n}{2}p^{2}(1-p)^{n-2}\]

Note that the probability that zero or one or two, etc. errors occurring must be one; in other words, something must happen to the codeword! That means that we must have

\[\binom{n}{0}(1-p)^{n}+\binom{n}{1}(1-p)^{n-1}+\binom{n}{2}p^{2}(1-p)^{n-2}+...+\binom{n}{n}p^{n}=1\]

Can you prove this?

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