I was trying to evaluate a sum over a piecewise function, not unlike this example. However, my piecewise function needed to be defined differently for even and odd k. This is a simpler version of my function, just so we can all agree that the sum exists:

f[k_]:=Piecewise[{{1, k==0}, {x^k/k!, OddQ[k]}, {x^k/k!, EvenQ[k]}}]

(I keep x and k undefined throughout. I know that this could be simplified, but this is just for the purposes of having a minimal working example.)

If, for example, I evaluate f[3], I get x^3/6, as expected. Or if I do

Sum[f[k], {k,0,5}]

I get the expected answer -- a nice little sum of terms involving powers of x. I can also do

Sum[x^k/k!, {k, 0, Infinity}]

And get E^x, as expected.

But if I evaluate

Sum[f[k], {k, 0, Infinity}]

I get 1. And, when I evaluate f[k], I get

Piecewise[{{1, k == 0}}, 0]

And yet, it still knows that f[k] is not just this when I pass an actual integer (e.g., 3), or ask for a finite Sum; it actually does remember more about f than these results suggest.

What is going on?


As J.M. pointed out in the comments, apparently OddQ and EvenQ evaluate on a symbol, before it is known whether it represents an integer -- never mind an even or odd one. The solution (adding IntegerPart) to the question george2079 linked does not help. But J.M. did suggest a workaround: change OddQ[k] to Mod[k,2]==1, and EvenQ[k] to Mod[k,2]==0. (I maintain that mathematica should be a little more clever about when it evaluates things, rather than silently given the right answer to a question I didn't mean to ask. But I guess it's legacy code by now.)

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    $\begingroup$ In brief: EvenQ[] and OddQ[] return False for any input that is manifestly not an integer. Use checks based on Mod[] instead. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is away Mar 4 '16 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Mike I have encountered the same problem ... that OddQ[x] returns False, without even knowing whether x is odd or not. I find it most 'unnatural', and most un-Mathematica like, and wish it were otherwise. $\endgroup$ – wolfies Mar 5 '16 at 6:02
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    $\begingroup$ @wolfies: The documentation states that OddQ[expr] returns True only if expr is an odd integer. $\endgroup$ – Berg Mar 5 '16 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Berg We use Mathematica because we are interested in a world that does not simply consist of numerics, but rather one of symbols that may or may not be positive, even, odd etc. Positive[x] does NOT return False, because it understands that x might be positive, so it returns Positive[x], unless we tell it something more about x. The same symbolic behaviour would be desirable for the ___Q funcs, such as EvenQ, OddQ etc ... which currently are basically numeric functions, and which, in my view, operate in a manner that appears inconsistent with the symbolic underpinnings of Mma. $\endgroup$ – wolfies Mar 5 '16 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ As I said in an earlier comment, @wolfies, the *Q[] functions are not intended to remain inert; they must return either True or False. Granted, a version of OddQ[]/EvenQ[] that remains inert for ambiguous arguments would be useful… $\endgroup$ – J. M. is away Mar 5 '16 at 11:33

As suggested by J.M., the solution is to use Mod:

f[k_] := Piecewise[{{1, k==0}, {x^k/k!, Mod[k, 2]==1}, {x^k/k!, Mod[k, 2]==0}}]

This returns the expected values for both

Sum[f[k], {k,0,5}]

and for

Sum[f[k], {k, 0, Infinity}]

As an interface-design issue, the choice to make *Q functions return a value even for generic symbols seems like a very poor and inconsistent one. But at least now I know to be wary...


It has already been pointed out that the problem originates from the fact that OddQ[x] evaluates to False if x is not a numerical value. Note that it is not hard to define test function that returns unevaluated for symbolic arguments:

CEvenQ[n_Integer] := EvenQ[n]
COddQ[n_Integer] := OddQ[n]

Now, COddQ[2] gives False and COddQ[x] is returned unevaluated. So,

f[k_] := Piecewise[{{1, k == 0}, {x^k/k!, COddQ[k]}, {x^k/k!,CEvenQ[k]}}]
Sum[f[k], {k, 0, 4}]
Sum[f[k], {k, 0, Infinity}]

gives the same finite sum as before and returns the second, infinite, sum unevaluated.

It is also possible to add some smartness to this function:

CEvenQ[z_Integer x_] := EvenQ[z] || CEvenQ[x]

gives True if any expression x is multiplied by an even integer. (Whether this rule is desirable depends, of course, on assumptions about the expressions handed to CEvenQ.)

  • $\begingroup$ The second (infinite) sum should return E^x. $\endgroup$ – Mike Mar 6 '16 at 20:28

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