I am studying Lemma 1 of this paper: The Adaptive Complexity of Maximizing a Submodular Function. The proof appears on page 11.

I got stuck on this inequality:

where $f$ is a monotone submodular set function, $S$ and $S^{-1}$ are two sets, $R$ is a random subset of $S$ (sampled from a uniform distribution over subsets of size $k$, where $k$ is some given value.), and $f_{R \setminus \{a\}}(a)$ is the marginal gain by adding an element $a$ to the set $R \setminus \{a\}$.

In particular, how does the second inequality follows from the submodularity of $f$?

  • $\begingroup$ Okay, submodularity is equivalent to a larger marginal gain if we add $a$ to a superset than the marginal gain to its subset. I can see an intuition that if we assume $a \in R$, then $R\setminus \{a\}$ is a smaller set. Whereas if $a \not\in R$, then $R \setminus \{a\} = R$ which is a large, so $a$ gives a larger marginal gain in the first place. But I don't immediately see that as compatible with conditional probability. It seems to rely on something you haven't told us about $R$, like each element is included with equal independent probability. $\endgroup$
    – usul
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ @usul $R$ is a random subset of $S$, sampled from a uniform distribution over subsets of size $k$, where $k$ is some given value. $\endgroup$
    – Null_Space
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 22:32

1 Answer 1


The following lemma implies the inequality in question.

Lemma 1. $E[f_{R\setminus \{a\}}(a)] \le E[f_{R\setminus\{a\}}(a) \,|\, a \in R]$

Proof. Consider the following experiment:

  1. Let $R$ be distributed as in the question (uniformly at random from the size-$k$ subsets).

  2. Obtain r.v.'s $R_1$ and $R_2$ from $R$ as follows: if $a\in R$, let $R_1=R_2=R$. Otherwise let $R_1 = R \cup\{a\}$ and let $R_2 = (R \setminus \{x\})\cup\{a\}$ where $x$ is a random element from $R$.

Note the following:

  1. In any outcome $f_{R_1\setminus \{a\}}(a) \le f_{R_2\setminus\{a\}}(a),$ because $f$ is submodular and $R_2 \subseteq R_1$.

  2. $R_2$ is distributed uniformly at random from the size-$k$ sets containing $a$. That is, the distribution of $R_2$ is the distribution of $R$ conditioned on $a\in R$.

Now we have

$\begin{align*} E[f_{R\setminus\{a\}}(a)] & = E[f_{R_1\setminus\{a\}}(a)] && (\text{because } R\setminus\{a\} = R_1\setminus\{a\}) \\ & \le E[f_{R_2\setminus\{a\}}(a)] && (\text{by item 3 above}) \\ & = E[f_{R\setminus\{a\}}(a)\,|\, a\in R] && (\text{by item 4 above})~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~\Box \end{align*}$


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