Falling and rising factorials

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In mathematics, the falling factorial (sometimes called the descending factorial,[1] falling sequential product, lower factorial) is defined:

The rising factorial (sometimes called the Pochhammer function, Pochhammer polynomial, ascending factorial,[1] "rising sequential product" or "upper factorial") is defined:

The value of each is taken to be 1 (an empty product) when n=0.

The Pochhammer symbol introduced by Leo August Pochhammer is the notation (x)n, where n is a non-negative integer. Depending on the context the Pochhammer symbol may represent either the rising factorial or the falling factorial as defined above. Care needs to be taken to check which interpretation is being used in any particular article. Pochhammer himself actually used (x)n with yet another meaning, namely to denote the binomial coefficient .[2]

In this article the symbol (x)n is used to represent the falling factorial and the symbol x(n) is used for the rising factorial. These conventions are used in combinatorics.[3] In the theory of special functions (in particular the hypergeometric function) the Pochhammer symbol (x)n is used to represent the rising factorial.[4] A useful list of formulas for manipulating the rising factorial in this last notation is given in (Slater 1966, Appendix I). Knuth uses the term factorial powers to comprise rising and falling factorials.[5]

When x is a non-negative integer, then (x)n gives the number of n-permutations of an x-element set, or equivalently the number of injective functions from a set of size n to a set of size x. However, for these meanings other notations like xPn and P(x,n) are commonly used. The Pochhammer symbol serves mostly for more algebraic uses, for instance when x is an indeterminate, in which case (x)n designates a particular polynomial of degree n in x.


Rising Factorial:

Falling Factorial:


The rising and falling factorials can be used to express a binomial coefficient:

Thus many identities on binomial coefficients carry over to the falling and rising factorials.

A rising factorial can be expressed as a falling factorial that starts from the other end,

or as a falling factorial with opposite argument,

The rising and falling factorials are well defined in any unital ring, and therefore x can be taken to be, for example, a complex number, including negative integers, or a polynomial with complex coefficients, or any complex-valued function.

The rising factorial can be extended to real values of n using the Gamma function provided x and x + n are complex numbers that are not negative integers:

and so can the falling factorial:

If D denotes differentiation with respect to x, one has

The Pochhammer symbol is also integral to the definition of the hypergeometric function: The hypergeometric function is defined for |z| < 1 by the power series

provided that c does not equal 0, −1, −2, ... . Note, however, that the hypergeometric function literature uses the notation for rising factorials.

Relation to umbral calculus[edit]

The falling factorial occurs in a formula which represents polynomials using the forward difference operator Δ and which is formally similar to Taylor's theorem of calculus. In this formula and in many other places, the falling factorial (x)k in the calculus of finite differences plays the role of xk in differential calculus. Note for instance the similarity of


A similar result holds for the rising factorial.

The study of analogies of this type is known as umbral calculus. A general theory covering such relations, including the falling and rising factorial functions, is given by the theory of polynomial sequences of binomial type and Sheffer sequences. Rising and falling factorials are Sheffer sequences of binomial type:

where the coefficients are the same as the ones in the expansion of a power of a binomial (Chu–Vandermonde identity).

Similarly, the generating function of Pochhammer polynomials then amounts to the umbral exponential,

as Δ(1+t )x = t (1+t )x.

Connection coefficients[edit]

Since the falling factorials are a basis for the polynomial ring, we can re-express the product of two of them as a linear combination of falling factorials:

The coefficients of the (x)m+nk, called connection coefficients, have a combinatorial interpretation as the number of ways to identify (or glue together) k elements each from a set of size m and a set of size n.

Alternate notations[edit]

An alternate notation for the rising factorial

and for the falling factorial

goes back to A. Capelli (1893) and L. Toscano (1939), respectively.[6] Graham, Knuth and Patashnik[7] propose to pronounce these expressions as "x to the m rising" and "x to the m falling", respectively.

Other notations for the falling factorial include P(xn), xPn, Px,n, or xPn. (See permutation and combination.)

An alternate notation for the rising factorial x(n) is the less common (x)+n. When the notation (x)+n is used for the rising factorial, the notation (x)n is typically used for the ordinary falling factorial to avoid confusion.[2]


The Pochhammer symbol has a generalized version called the generalized Pochhammer symbol, used in multivariate analysis. There is also a q-analogue, the q-Pochhammer symbol.

A generalization of the falling factorial in which a function is evaluated on a descending arithmetic sequence of integers and the values are multiplied is:

where h is the decrement and k is the number of factors. The corresponding generalization of the rising factorial is

This notation unifies the rising and falling factorials, which are [x]k/1 and [x]k/−1, respectively.

For any fixed arithmetic function and symbolic parameters , related generalized factorial products of the form

may be studied from the point of view of the classes of generalized Stirling numbers of the first kind defined by the following coefficients of the powers of in the expansions of and then by the next corresponding triangular recurrence relation:

These coefficients satisfy a number of analogous properties to those for the Stirling numbers of the first kind as well as recurrence relations and functional equations related to the f-harmonic numbers, .[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Steffensen, J. F., Interpolation (2nd ed.), Dover Publications, p. 8, ISBN 0-486-45009-0  (A reprint of the 1950 edition by Chelsea Publishing Co.)
  2. ^ a b Knuth, Donald E. (1992), "Two notes on notation", American Mathematical Monthly, 99 (5): 403–422, arXiv:math/9205211Freely accessible, doi:10.2307/2325085, JSTOR 2325085 . The remark about the Pochhammer symbol is on page 414.
  3. ^ Olver 1999, p. 101
  4. ^ so is the case in Abramowitz and Stegun's "Handbook of Mathematical Functions", P. 256
  5. ^ Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 1, 3rd ed., p. 50.
  6. ^ According to Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 1, 3rd ed., p. 50.
  7. ^ Ronald L. Graham, Donald E. Knuth and Oren Patashnik in their book Concrete Mathematics (1988), Addison-Wesley, Reading MA. ISBN 0-201-14236-8, pp. 47,48
  8. ^ Combinatorial Identities for Generalized Stirling Numbers Expanding f-Factorial Functions and the f-Harmonic Numbers (2016).


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