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Combinations with Duplicate Objects

Date: 06/22/99 at 13:02:10
From: Michael Black
Subject: Combinations: n_C_k when items are duplicated

We all know the combination formula for choosing k objects from n 

n_C_k = ----------- 
         k!(n - k)! 

Here is what's confounding our group: What if some of the n items are 

For instance, 6_C_3 from this list (ABBCCC). We know the value should 
be lower than 6_C_3 = 20 (actually, it's 5), but can't figure out how 
to modify the formula correctly.

Is it even appropriate to be using n_C_k for this problem?

Please help!  Thank you for your time.

Date: 06/22/99 at 16:55:28
From: Doctor Anthony
Subject: Re: Combinations: n_C_k when items are duplicated

This is a type of problem that is considerably more difficult than one 
in which all objects are different. We require two bits of theory that 
you may not have met before. The first concerns the number of ways of 
distributing objects into distinct cells, and the second is the 
inclusion-exclusion principle.

Suppose we have an equation of the form

        x1 + x2 + x3 = 10

and we wish to find the number of integer solutions of this equation 
with each of x1, x2, x3 having values that can range from 0 to 10.

We can model this problem by considering the number of ways that say 
10 oranges could be distributed at random to 3 children (zero oranges 
being allowed to one or two of the children).

We can illustrate the situation with * representing oranges and | | 
representing a container. Thus

   |*****|**|***| is a possible solution with x1 = 5,  x2 = 2,  x3 = 3

The number of solutions is the same as the number of ways we could 
arrange 10 *'s and 2 |'s in every possible way.

This is clearly seen to be  ------  =  C(12,10)
                            10! 2!

The two |'s represent the containers, and the number of | in any such 
line-up is always 1 less than the number of containers.

So with r oranges and k children the result would be 

                -----------  =  C(r+k-1,r)
                 r! (k-1)!

and similarly the number of solutions to the equation

     x1 + x2 + x3 + ..... + xk = r   is simply  C(r+k-1,r)

So far so good, and this is okay provided there are no restrictions on 
the x1, x2, values except that they must be less than r. When there 
are restrictions on the individual x values then we must subtract from 
C(r+k-1,r) the number of solutions where these x values are exceeded. 
This is where the inclusion-exclusion principle comes in.
Inclusion-Exclusion Principle
It is easy to illustrate the principle with two or three probabilities 
using a Venn diagram.

For example with two overlapping probabilities P(A) and P(B), we have 

     P(A or B) = P(A) + P(B) - P(A and B)

The overlapping region is added with P(A) and added again with 
P(B), so to get it added once only we subtract it, giving rise to 
the expression shown above.

With three overlapping probabilities P(A), P(B) and P(C) we get

     P(A or B or C) = P(A) + P(B) + P(C) 
                      - P(A and B) - P(B and C) - P(C and A)
                      + P(A and B and C)

now the overlap of all 3 probabilities is added 3 times by the 
first line of this equation, subtracted 3 times by the second line of 
the equation and so must be added again by the third line.

The area corresponding to A and B BUT NOT C is added twice in the 
first line and subtracted once in the second line, so it will appear 
once as is required. Similarly for area B and C but not A, and the 
area corresponding to C and A but not B, each will eventually appear 
once only.

With more probabilities the pattern continues and the proof by 
induction is not difficult but a little tedious. The name 
'inclusion-exclusion' describes exactly what is happening. Regions are 
being added a number of times and subtracted a number of times in such 
a way that each region occurs exactly once.

The same ideas apply when we are talking about the NUMBER of elements 
in a set. So

     n(A or B or C) = n(A) + n(B) + n(C)
                      - n(A and B) - n(B and C) - n(C and A)
                      + n(A and B and C)

and finally the number such that none of A, or B or C occur is 

|~A and ~B and ~C| = |U| - n(A or B or C) 

                             (where |U| is the universal set)

                = |U| - SUM[n(A)] + SUM[n(A and B)] - n(A and B and C)

I shall now work through an example in which both of the above ideas 
are put into action.

Determine the number of combinations of 10 letters that can be formed 

     3.A's,   4.B's,   5.C's

If there are no restrictions on any of the letters, this is simply our 
10 oranges and 3 children problem again, and we saw there that the 
number of possible solutions is C(12,10) = 66

This also corresponds to the universal set |U| 

Let P1 be the property that a 10-combination has more than 3 A's
    P2           "                   "             "       4 B's
    P3           "                   "             "       5 C's

If Ai is the NUMBER of 10-combinations which have property Pi 

|~A and ~B and ~C| = 66 - SUM[A1] + SUM[A1 and A2] - A1 and A2 and A3

The set A1 consists of all 10-combinations in which A occurs 4 or more 
times. If we take any one of these 10-combinations in A1 and remove 4 
A's we are left with a 6-combination, so the number of unwanted 
10-combinations in which P1 occurs is equal to the 6-combination 
without a limit on the numbers of letters.

            So |A1| = C(6+3-1,6) = C(8,6) = 28

and similarly  |A2| = C(7,5) = 21

               |A3| = C(6,4) = 15

The set A1 and A2 consists of all 10-combinationsin which A occurs at 
least 4 times and B occurs at least 5 times. If from any of these 
10-combinations we remove 4 A's and 5 B's we are left with a 
1-combination of the unrestricted set.

       So         |A1 and A2| = C(1+3-1,1) = C(3,1) = 3

Similarly         |A2 and A3| = 0

      and         |A3 and A1| = C(0+3-1,0) = C(2,0) = 1

     also  |A1 and A2 and A3| = 0

Putting all these results together we get

     |~A and ~B and ~C| = 66 - (28+21+15) + (3+0+1) - 0

                        =  6

So there are just 6 of the 10-combinations that can be chosen with the 
restrictions on the numbers of letters. 

This type of question is often very conveniently answered using 
generating functions. To answer the problem that I worked through at 
some length, the number of 10-combinations that can be made from 
3 A's, 4 B's, 5 C's is found from the coefficient of x^10 in the 
expansion of:


With the aid of Mathcad or some such computer assistance we get the 
coefficient of x^10 is 6 in a few seconds. In effect the computer does 
the thinking for you.

To get the coefficient of x^10 without computer assistance we can ease 
the algebra a little by expressing the various brackets as sums of 
geometric series.

     1+x+x^2+x^3         = (1-x^4)/(1-x)  

     1+x+x^2+x^3+x^4     = (1-x^5)/(1-x)

     1+x+x^2+x^3+x^4+x^5 = (1-x^6)/(1-x)

If we multiply these all together we get


   [1-x^4 -x^5 -x^6 +x^9 +x^10 +x^11 -x^15]
Picking out the coefficient of x^10 we get

   66-28-21-15+3+1 = 6

Finally to answer the question you asked about, we need the number of 
3-combinations taken from  1 A, 2 B's, 3 C's.

The generating function is

  (1+x)(1+x+x^2)(1+x+x^3) = 1 + 3x + 5x^2 + 6x^3 + 5x^4 + + 3x^5 + x^6

and since the coefficient of x^3 is 6 we know that there will be 6 
combinations of 3 letters. This differs from the answer you quoted.

The actual combinations are


- Doctor Anthony, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
High School Permutations and Combinations

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