Kruskal–Katona theorem

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In algebraic combinatorics, the Kruskal–Katona theorem gives a complete characterization of the f-vectors of abstract simplicial complexes. It includes as a special case the Erdős–Ko–Rado theorem and can be restated in terms of uniform hypergraphs. It is named after Joseph Kruskal and Gyula O. H. Katona, but has been independently discovered by several others.


Given two positive integers N and i, there is a unique way to expand N as a sum of binomial coefficients as follows:

This expansion can be constructed by applying the greedy algorithm: set ni to be the maximal n such that replace N with the difference, i with i − 1, and repeat until the difference becomes zero. Define

Statement for simplicial complexes[edit]

An integral vector is the f-vector of some -dimensional simplicial complex if and only if

Statement for uniform hypergraphs[edit]

Let A be a set consisting of N distinct i-element subsets of a fixed set U ("the universe") and B be the set of all -element subsets of the sets in A. Expand N as above. Then the cardinality of B is bounded below as follows:

Lovász' simplified formulation[edit]

The following weaker but useful form is due to László Lovász (1993) Let A be a set of i-element subsets of a fixed set U ("the universe") and B be the set of all -element subsets of the sets in A. If then .

In this formulation, x need not be an integer. The value of the binomial expression is .

Ingredients of the proof[edit]

For every positive i, list all i-element subsets a1 < a2 < … ai of the set N of natural numbers in the colexicographical order. For example, for i = 3, the list begins

Given a vector with positive integer components, let Δf be the subset of the power set 2N consisting of the empty set together with the first i-element subsets of N in the list for i = 1, …, d. Then the following conditions are equivalent:

  1. Vector f is the f-vector of a simplicial complex Δ.
  2. Δf is a simplicial complex.

The difficult implication is 1 ⇒ 2.


The theorem is named after Joseph Kruskal and Gyula O. H. Katona, who published it in 1963 and 1968 respectively. According to Le & Römer (2019), it was discovered independently by Kruskal (1963), Katona (1968), Marcel-Paul Schützenberger (1959), Harper (1966), and Clements & Lindström (1969). Donald Knuth (2011) writes that the earliest of these references, by Schützenberger, has an incomplete proof.

See also[edit]


  • Clements, G. F.; Lindström, B. (1969), "A generalization of a combinatorial theorem of Macaulay", Journal of Combinatorial Theory, 7: 230–238, doi:10.1016/S0021-9800(69)80016-5, MR 0246781. Reprinted in Gessel, Ira; Rota, Gian-Carlo, eds. (1987), Classic Papers in Combinatorics, Boston, Massachusetts: Birkhäuser Boston, Inc., pp. 416–424, doi:10.1007/978-0-8176-4842-8, ISBN 0-8176-3364-2, MR 0904286
  • Harper, L. H. (1966), "Optimal numberings and isoperimetric problems on graphs", Journal of Combinatorial Theory, 1: 385–393, doi:10.1016/S0021-9800(66)80059-5, MR 0200192
  • Katona, Gyula O. H. (1968), "A theorem of finite sets", in Erdős, Paul; Katona, Gyula O. H. (eds.), Theory of Graphs, Akadémiai Kiadó and Academic Press. Reprinted in Gessel & Rota (1987, pp. 381–401).
  • Knuth, Donald (2011), "", The Art of Computer Programming, volume 4A: Combinatorial algorithms, part 1, p. 373.
  • Kruskal, Joseph B. (1963), "The number of simplices in a complex", in Bellman, Richard E. (ed.), Mathematical Optimization Techniques, University of California Press.
  • Lovász, László (1993), Combinatorial problems and exercises, Amsterdam: North-Holland.
  • Le, Dinh Van; Römer, Tim (2019), A Kruskal–Katona type result and applications, arXiv:1903.02998
  • Stanley, Richard (1996), Combinatorics and commutative algebra, Progress in Mathematics, 41 (2nd ed.), Boston, MA: Birkhäuser Boston, Inc., ISBN 0-8176-3836-9.
  • Schützenberger, M.P. (1959), "A Characteristic Property of Certain Polynomials of E. F. Moore and C. E. Shannon", RLE Quarterly Progress Report, 55 (Processing and Transmission of Information): 117–118, retrieved 19 March 2019.

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