Given two CFGs for balanced parentheses.

  1. $S \rightarrow SS \mid (S) \mid \epsilon$

  2. $S \rightarrow S(S)S \mid \epsilon$

How do I show that they are equivalent?

I have been able to show $ L(2) \subset L(1) $ as follows

$$ S \Rightarrow SS \Rightarrow SSSS \leadsto S(S)S $$

Thus, $ S \leadsto S(S)S $. Keeping production rule $ S \rightarrow \epsilon $, we get $ L(2) \subset L(1) $.

But I can't prove the reverse i.e. $ L(1) \subset L(2) $. Any help would be appreciated.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can show that both grammars generate the language of balanced parentheses. $\endgroup$ – Yuval Filmus Feb 7 at 16:28

But I can't prove the reverse i.e. $𝐿(1)\subseteq 𝐿(2)$.

Indeed, that direction of inclusion is somewhat harder to prove.

Let us prove all following 3 context-free grammars are equivalent

  • $G_1$: $S \rightarrow SS \mid (S) \mid \epsilon$
  • $G_2$: $S \rightarrow S(S)S \mid \epsilon$
  • $G_3$: $S \rightarrow (S)S \mid \epsilon$


  • $L(G_1)\supseteq L(G_2)$: $S\Rightarrow_{G_1}SS\Rightarrow_{G_1}SSS\Rightarrow_{G_1}S(S)S\,.$
  • $L(G_2)\supseteq L(G_3)$: $S\Rightarrow_{G_2}S(S)S\Rightarrow_{G_2}(S)S\,.$
  • $L(G_3)\supseteq L(G_1)$:

    Let $B$ be the language of balanced parentheses, i.e., $$\{x\in\{(,)\}^*\}:|x||_(= ||x||_) \text { and, }\text{if } f\text{ is a prefix of } x,\,|f||_(\ge ||f||_)\}\,.$$ It is immediate to see that $L(G_1)\subseteq B$ by structural induction.

    Let $P(n)$ be the proposition that all words in $B$ not longer than $2n$ are in $L(G_3)$.

    • $P(0)$ is true since the only word not longer than 0 is $\epsilon$.
    • Assume $P(k)$ is true. Let $w\in B$ with length $2(k+1)$. $w$ must start with left parenthesis, "(". If we count the number of "("s and the number of ")" in $w$ starting from the beginning "(", there will be a time the number of ")"s catches up with the number of "("s. Consider the first time that happens, which must at a ")" in $w$. So $$w=(w_1)w_2$$ for some $w_1,w_2\in B$. By IH, $S\leadsto_{G_3}w_1$ and $S\leadsto_{G_3}w_2$. Hence $$S\Rightarrow_{G_3}(S)S\leadsto_{G_3}(w_1)w_2=w$$ which shows $P(k+1)$ is true, completing mathematical induction.

    All $P(n)$ tell that $L(G_3)\supseteq B$.

Exercise. Let $G_4$ be the grammar $S \rightarrow S(S)\mid \epsilon$. Show that $G_4$ also generates the language of balanced parentheses.

  • $\begingroup$ "all words not longer than" should probably be "all words in $B$ not longer than" $\endgroup$ – Alexey Romanov Feb 8 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexeyRomanov Thanks, updated. $\endgroup$ – Apass.Jack Feb 8 at 7:03

Let $T = \{ (, ) \}$ be the alphabet of terminals and $N = \{ S \}$ that of nonterminals. Additionally, let $\Rightarrow_i$ denote a derivation using the grammar for $L_i$, $i \in \{ 1, 2 \}$.

Let $w \in L_1 \setminus \{ \varepsilon \}$. Then $S \Rightarrow_1^\ast w$ and $w$ contains at least one pair of parentheses; in order to produce it, the rule $S \to (S)$ must be used somewhere (since it is the only rule which contains parentheses at all). Thus, there is $w_1, w_2 \in (N \cup T)^\ast$ and $w_3 \in L_1$ with $$S \Rightarrow_1^\ast w_1 S w_2 \Rightarrow_1 w_1 (S) w_2 \Rightarrow_1^\ast w_1 ( w_3 ) w_2 \Rightarrow_1^\ast w$$ and such that this is the first use of the rule $S \to (S)$. Now, since this is first derivation in which the rule $S \to (S)$ is used, $w_1, w_2 \in \{ S \}^\ast$ and both were produced by using (only) the other two rules of the $L_1$ grammar. As a result, $S \Rightarrow_1^\ast w_1$ and $S \Rightarrow_1^\ast w_2$.

Using induction on the number of pairs of parentheses in $w$ (since $w_1$, $w_2$ and $w_3$ all have at least one pair less than $w$) yields $S(S)S \Rightarrow_2^\ast w_1 (w_3) w_2 \Rightarrow_2^\ast w$, as desired.


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