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Combinatorics is a branch of mathematics concerning the study of finite or countable discrete structures. Aspects of combinatorics include counting the structures of a given kind and size (enumerative combinatorics), deciding when certain criteria can be met, and constructing and analyzing objects meeting the criteria (as in combinatorial designs and matroid theory), finding "largest", "smallest", or "optimal" objects (extremal combinatorics and combinatorial optimization), and studying combinatorial structures arising in an algebraic context, or applying algebraic techniques to combinatorial problems (algebraic combinatorics).

Combinatorial problems arise in many areas of pure mathematics, notably in algebra, probability theory, topology, and geometry,[1] and combinatorics also has many applications in optimization, computer science, ergodic theory and statistical physics. Many combinatorial questions have historically been considered in isolation, giving an ad hoc solution to a problem arising in some mathematical context. In the later twentieth century however powerful and general theoretical methods were developed, making combinatorics into an independent branch of mathematics in its own right. One of the oldest and most accessible parts of combinatorics is graph theory, which also has numerous natural connections to other areas. Combinatorics is used frequently in computer science to obtain formulas and estimates in the analysis of algorithms.

A mathematician who studies combinatorics is often referred to as a combinatorialist or (less frequently) combinatorist.


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