I'm in a first year discrete math course and we started algorithms. I created a recursive algorithm to multiply two numbers together:

function multiply($n, $r) {
    if($n == 1)
	return $r;
    else if($r == 1)
	return $n;
        return $r + multiply($n - 1, $r);

How do I prove my algorithm is correct?

A quick google search tells me I have to prove that it works for $n + 1$ and I have to prove that it terminates. Unfortunately I'm still incredibly new to this and haven't the faintest clue as to where to start for proving my algorithm correct, so I would really appreciate some help here. I think maybe I have to do some sort of proof by induction but as this is an algorithm, I wouldn't know where to start.


1 Answer 1


You need to do a proof by induction on $n + r$. Let $P(m)$ be the statement "for any $n,r \geq 1$ satisfying $n+r = m$, $\mathrm{multiply}(n,r) = nr$. The proof by induction goes along the following lines.

Base case: $m=2$, so $n=r=1$. By inspection, $\mathrm{multiply}(1,1)=1$.

Induction step: suppose $P(m)$ is true for some $m \geq 2$, and let $n,r\geq 1$ satisfy $n+r = m+1$. If $n=1$ or $r=1$ then $\mathrm{multiply}(n,r)=nr$ by inspection. Otherwise, by $P(m)$, $\mathrm{multiply}(n-1,r)=(n-1)r$ (since $n-1+r = m$), so $\mathrm{multiply}(n,r) = r+\mathrm{multiply}(n-1,r) = r+(n-1)r = nr$.

By the principle of mathematical induction, $P(m)$ is true for all $m$, and so for any $n,r\geq 1$, $\mathrm{multiply}(n,r)=nr$.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Take special note of the $n+r=m$ trick he's using here; it's well worth remembering. The idea is that you've got some function with arguments $f(a_0,a_1,...,a_p)$, and the inductive step needs to hold regardless of what $a_i$ you might increment. But rather than proving the inductive step for each argument separately, you roll all of the arguments into one term ($m=\sum_{i=0}^pa_i$) and wrap that in a new function or relationship, $P(m)$. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 2:39

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