Boole's inequality

In probability theory, Boole's inequality, also known as the union bound, says that for any finite or countable set of events, the probability that at least one of the events happens is no greater than the sum of the probabilities of the individual events. Boole's inequality is named after George Boole.

Formally, for a countable set of events A1, A2, A3, ..., we have

In measure-theoretic terms, Boole's inequality follows from the fact that a measure (and certainly any probability measure) is σ-sub-additive.


Proof using induction

Boole's inequality may be proved for finite collections of events using the method of induction.

For the case, it follows that

For the case , we have

Since and because the union operation is associative, we have


by the first axiom of probability, we have


and therefore


Proof without using induction

For any events in in our probability space we have

One of the axioms of a probability space is that if are disjoint subsets of the probability space then

this is called countable additivity.

If then

Indeed, from the axioms of a probability distribution,

Note that both terms on the right are nonnegative.

Now we have to modify the sets , so they become disjoint.

So if , then we know

Therefore can we make following equation

Bonferroni inequalities

Boole's inequality may be generalised to find upper and lower bounds on the probability of finite unions of events.[1] These bounds are known as Bonferroni inequalities, after Carlo Emilio Bonferroni, see Bonferroni (1936).



as well as

for all integers k in {3, ..., n}.

Then, for odd k in {1, ..., n},

and for even k in {2, ..., n},

Boole's inequality is recovered by setting k = 1. When k = n, then equality holds and the resulting identity is the inclusion–exclusion principle.

See also


  1. Casella, George; Berger, Roger L. (2002). Statistical Inference. Duxbury. pp. 11–13. ISBN 0-534-24312-6.

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