Suppose that $m=O(n^{c+1/2})$ for some real $c>0$ and $x=O(\sqrt{\log m})$. Are the following two computations valid? I understand that I'm abusing notations a bit to get at the desired results.

Computation 1 \begin{align} f(x)\leq \exp(-x^2/2)&=\exp(-O(\log m))\\ &=\exp(-O(\log O(n^{c+1/2})))\\ &=\exp(-O(\log n^{c+1/2}))\\ &\leq \exp(-K_1\log n^{c+1/2})))\\ &=n^{-O(1)} \end{align} where $K_1>0$ when $n$ is sufficiently large (i.e. there exists $K_1>0$, $n_0$ such that when $n\geq n_0$, $\exp(-O(\log n^{c+1/2}))\leq \exp(-K_1\log n^{c+1/2})))$. The last quantity $n^{-O(1)}$ represents the set of polynomially-bounded functions (see accepted answer in this post).

Computation 2 $$ f(x)\frac{m}{n^{1/2}} \leq n^{-O(1)}\frac{m}{n^{1/2}}=\leq n^{-O(1)}\frac{m}{n^{c+1/2-c}}=O(1)?? $$

  • $\begingroup$ Using big O notation within equations is IMHO, if not terribly sloppy, simply abhorrent mathematics. When you have set $f \in O(g)$, then pick some constant $c$ and write thereafter $f(n) \le c g(n)$ (along with a remark in the lines of "for almost all $n$"). $\endgroup$
    – dkaeae
    Nov 29, 2018 at 19:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @dkaeae Sorry but expressions such as "$f(x) = (1+o(1))\sqrt{x}$" or "$f(x)=n\log n + O(n)$" are extremely common and a lot of mathematics would get very tedious if all of those were rewritten as "$f(x) =(1+g(x))\sqrt{x}$ for some function $g\in o(1)$" and so on. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ If $x$ goes to $\infty$, $f(x)$ goes to 0. It is better to talk about $\frac1{f(x)}$ $\endgroup$
    – John L.
    Nov 30, 2018 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ @David Richerby Yes, I'm aware it is usual practice, but taking those and reformulating them further to something like $\exp(-O(\log(O(n^\dots))))$ just takes things to a whole other level... $\endgroup$
    – dkaeae
    Nov 30, 2018 at 7:14

1 Answer 1


If these computations appear in a paper for me to review, I would like to ask the author to rewrite.

$$\exp(-x^2/2)\leq \exp\left(-K_1\log n^{c+1/2\,}\right), \text{ where } K_1>0$$

This is wrong. The direction of inequality should be switched. For example, let $n\to\infty$ and $x$ be constant 1, the left hand side remains a constant while the right hand side goes to 0. This error means "Computation 2" is wrong from the start.

The last quantity $n^{-O(1)}$ represents the set of polynomially-bounded functions.

Instead of $n^{-O(1)}\,$, $n^{O(1)}$ represents asymptotically the set of polynomially-bounded functions.


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