Number of Compositions

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A $k$-composition of a positive integer $n$ is an ordered $k$-tuple: $c = \left({c_1, c_2, \ldots, c_k}\right)$ such that $c_1 + c_2 + \cdots + c_k = n$ and $c_i $ are strictly positive integers.

The number of $k$-compositions of $n$ is $\displaystyle \binom{n-1}{k-1}$ and the total number of compositions of $n$ is $2^{n-1}$ (i.e. for $k = 1, 2, 3, \ldots, n$).


Consider the following array consisting of $n$ ones and $n-1$ blanks:

$\begin{bmatrix} 1 \ \_ \ 1 \ \_ \ \cdots \ \_ \ 1 \ \_ \ 1 \end{bmatrix}$

In each blank we can either put a comma or a plus sign.

Each way of choosing $,$ or $+$ will give a composition of $n$ with the commas separating the individual $c_i$'s.

It follows easily that there are $2^{n-1}$ ways of doing this, since there are two choices for each of $n-1$ blanks.

The result follows from the Product Rule for Counting.

Similarly if we want specifically $k$ different $c_i$'s then we are left with choosing $k-1$ out of $n-1$ blanks to place the $k-1$ commas.

The number of ways of doing so is $\displaystyle \binom{n-1}{k-1}$ from the Binomial Theorem.