We are given a finite set of propositional atoms $\{x_1, \dots, x_n\}$ and an integer $k$. Can we capture through a propositional formula $\varphi$ (built from the standard connectives $\neg, \wedge, \vee$ only) the set of all models having at most $k$ atoms valued at $1$, such that the size of $\varphi$ is polynomial w.r.t. $n$? If yes, how?

The only way I see is to define $\varphi$ as an exponential-sized DNF formula containing $\binom{n}{k}$ conjunctions of literals. For instance, for n=5 and k=2, the corresponding formula would be $(\neg x_1 \wedge \neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_3) \vee (\neg x_1 \wedge \neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_4) \vee (\neg x_1 \wedge \neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_5) \vee (\neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_3 \wedge \neg x_4) \vee (\neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_3 \wedge \neg x_5) \vee \dots$

I got the following comment for the same question on https://cstheory.stackexchange.com/ but I do not have the level to understand it. I googled all keywords but I still cannot find the answer.

$d_H(\omega, \omega')$ equals the number of 1 bits in the pointwise XOR of $\omega$ and $\omega'$. So, compute the XORs, count the number of 1 bits, and compare the result to k. It is well known that one can count bits with log-depth circuits (hence polynomial-size formulas), and one easy way to do that is to sum the individual bits using repeated 3-to-2 carry-save addition. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carry-save_adder if you don’t know what that is. The choice of the basis of connectives is immaterial in all this, as long as it is complete

  • $\begingroup$ Intuitively, I would express it as an exponential sized DNF formula containing $\binom{n}{k}$ conjonctions of literals. For instance, for $n=5$ and $k=2$, the corresponding formula would be $(\neg x_1 \wedge \neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_3) \vee (\neg x_1 \wedge \neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_4) \vee (\neg x_1 \wedge \neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_5) \vee (\neg x_2 \wedge \neg x_3 \wedge \neg x_4) \vee \dots$ I do not see a more succinct way to do it. I have asked the question on cstheory.stackexchange.com, but the question seems not appropriate there. The answer may be obvious, but not to me... $\endgroup$
    – user109711
    Feb 5, 2015 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ The initial question is here: cstheory.stackexchange.com/questions/29389/… but I cannot understand the explanation. What about the specific case when n=5 and k=2 as above, for instance? $\endgroup$
    – user109711
    Feb 5, 2015 at 16:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please edit your question to include your attempts and information you got. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Feb 5, 2015 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of Encoding 1-out-of-n constraint for SAT solvers $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Feb 6, 2015 at 23:08

1 Answer 1


The idea is to use the following steps:

  1. Construct an NC1 circuit computing the binary representation of $x_1+\cdots+x_n$, see for example these lecture notes (Theorem 7). This circuit implements carry-save addition.
  2. Convert the NC1 circuit to a polynomial size formula, see for example these lecture notes (Proposition 1).
  3. For each $k$, it is now easy to construct a polynomial size formula that tests whether $x_1+\cdots+x_n=k$.
  4. Use up to $n$ of the formulas from the previous step to come up with your desired formula.

You can in fact implement the last two steps more efficiently, using $\log n$ rather $n$ copies of the preceding formula, by using a comparison gadget; details left to you.


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