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Probability and Combinations

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Probability and Combinations

Suppose you're at the local animal shelter, and you want to adopt two dogs. If there are 45 dogs from which to choose, how many different pairs of dogs could you adopt? What formula do you think you could use to calculate this number? If the dogs were chosen at random, would it be possible for you to find the probability of adopting a particular pair? In this Concept, you'll learn about combinations and probability so you can answer these types of questions when they come up.


When the order of objects is not important and/or the objects are replaced, combinations are formed.

A combination is an arrangement of objects in no particular order.

Consider a sandwich with salami, ham, and turkey. The order in which we place the deli meat does not matter, as long as it’s on the sandwich.

There is only one way to stack the meat on the sandwich if the order does not matter. However, if the order mattered, there are 3 choices for the first meat, 2 for the second, and one for the last choice: \underline{3} \cdot \underline{2} \cdot \underline{1}=6 .

Combination \neq Permutation

A combination of n objects chosen k at a time is expressed as _nC_k .

_nC_k =\frac{n!}{k!(n-k)!}= \binom{n}{k}

This is read “ n choose k .”

Example A

How many ways can 8 students be chosen from a class of 21?


It does not matter how the eight students are chosen. Use the formula for combinations rather than permutations.

=\frac{21!}{8!(21-8)!}= 203,490

There are 203,490 different ways to choose eight students from 21.

Combinations on a Graphing Calculator

Just like permutations, most graphing calculators have the capability to calculate combinations. On the TI calculators, use these directions.

  • Enter the n , or the total to choose from.
  • Choose the [MATH] button, directly below the [ALPHA] key. Move the cursor once to the left to see this screen:

  • Choose option #3, _nC_r . Type in the k value, the amount you want to choose.

Example B

Calculate \binom{100}{4} using a graphing calculator.


Probability and Combinations

Combinations are used in probability when there is a replacement of objects or the order does not matter.

Example C

Suppose you have ten marbles: four blue and six red. You choose three marbles without looking. What is the probability that all three marbles are blue?

\text{Probability} \ (success) = \frac{number \ of \ ways \ to \ get \ success}{total \ number \ of \ possible \ outcomes}

There are _4C_3 ways to choose the blue marbles. There are _{10}C_3 total combinations.

P(all \ 3 \ marbles \ are \ blue)= \frac{\binom{4}{3}}{\binom{10}{3}} = \frac{4}{120}=\frac{1}{30}

There is approximately a 3.33% chance that all three marbles drawn are blue.

Video Review

Guided Practice

The Senate is made up of 100 people, two per state.

1. How many different four-person committees are possible?

2. What is the probability that the committee will only have members from two states?


1. This question does not care how the committee members are chosen; we will use the formula for combinations.

\binom{100}{4}=\frac{100!}{4!(100-4)!}=3,921,225 \ ways

That is a lot of possibilities!

2. If there are only members from two states, that means two are from one state and two are from another. This problem is simply about how many ways you can choose 2 states out of 50 states.

\binom{50}{2}=\frac{50!}{2!(50-2)!}=1,225 \ ways

 P(\text{only two states represented})= \frac{1225}{3,921,225}=0.00031

The probability that only two states will be represented on the committee is 0.031%, which is a very small chance!


  1. What is a combination ? How is it different from a permutation?
  2. How many ways can you choose k objects from n possibilities?
  3. Why is _3C_9 impossible to evaluate?
  4. In 4 – 19, evaluate the combination.
  5. \binom{12}{2}
  6. \binom{8}{5}
  7. \binom{5}{1}
  8. \binom{3}{0}
  9. \binom{9}{9}
  10. \binom{9}{4}
  11. \binom{20}{10}
  12. \binom{19}{18}
  13. \binom{20}{14}
  14. \binom{13}{9}
  15. _7C_3
  16. _{11}C_5
  17. _5C_4
  18. _{13}C_9
  19. _{20}C_5
  20. _{15}C_{15}
  21. Your backpack contains 6 books. You select two at random. How many different pairs of books could you select?
  22. Seven people go out for dinner. In how many ways can 4 order steak, 2 order vegan, and 1 order seafood?
  23. A pizza parlor has 10 toppings to choose from. How many four-topping pizzas can be created?
  24. Gooies Ice Cream Parlor offers 28 different ice creams. How many two-scooped cones are possible, given that order does not matter?
  25. A college football team plays 14 games. In how many ways can the season end with 8 wins, 4 losses, and 2 ties?
  26. Using the marble situation from the Concept, determine the probability that the three marbles chosen are all red?
  27. Using the marble situation from the Concept, determine the probability that two marbles are red and the third is blue.
  28. Using the Senate situation from the Concept, how many two-person committees can be made using Senators?
  29. Your English exam has seven essays and you must answer four. How many combinations can be made?
  30. A sociology test has 15 true/false questions. In how many ways can you answer 11 correctly?
  31. Seven people are applying for two vacant school board positions; four are women, and three are men. In how many ways can these vacancies be filled ...
    1. With any two applicants?
    2. With only women?
    3. With one man and one woman?

Mixed Review

  1. How many ways can 15 paintings be lined along a wall?
  2. Your calculator gives an “Overload” error when trying to simplify \frac{300!}{296!} . What can you do to help evaluate this fraction?
  3. Consider a standard six-sided die. What is the probability that the number rolled will be a multiple of 2?
  4. Solve the following system: The sum of two numbers is 70.6 and their product is 1,055.65. Find the two numbers.




When the order of objects is not important and/or the objects are replaced, combinations are formed. A combination is an arrangement of objects in no particular order.

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