TutorChase logo
Decorative notebook illustration
IB DP Maths AA SL Study Notes

4.3.2 Venn Diagrams

Venn diagrams are a staple in the world of mathematics and logic. They offer a visual representation of sets and their relationships, making complex set operations and concepts more digestible and easier to understand. By using circles or other shapes to represent sets, Venn diagrams show the logical relationships between these sets.

Basic Concepts


The intersection of sets represents the common elements between them. It's the set of elements that belong to both sets.

  • Definition: The intersection of two or more sets is the set of elements that are common to all the sets. It is denoted by the symbol '∩'.
  • Example: Consider two sets, A = {1, 2, 3, 4} and B = {3, 4, 5, 6}. The intersection of sets A and B, represented as A ∩ B, is {3, 4} because these are the numbers that appear in both sets.


The union of sets represents all the elements that belong to either of the sets or both.

  • Definition: The union of two or more sets is the set of elements that belong to at least one of the sets. It is denoted by the symbol '∪'.
  • Example: Using the same sets A and B from above, the union of sets A and B, represented as A ∪ B, is {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6} because it includes all the numbers from both sets.


The complement of a set represents all the elements that are not in the set but are part of a universal set.

  • Definition: The complement of a set A, denoted by A', is the set of all elements that are not in A but are in the universal set U. The universal set contains all the elements under consideration, often defined by the context.
  • Example: If the universal set U = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} and set A = {2, 4, 6, 8}, then the complement of set A, represented as A', is {1, 3, 5, 7}.

For more foundational knowledge, you may want to explore the basics of probability as it ties closely with Venn diagrams.

Practical Applications of Venn Diagrams

Venn diagrams are not just theoretical constructs; they have practical applications in various fields:

  • Statistics: Venn diagrams can help visualise data overlaps, making it easier to understand complex data sets and their intersections. They can also be useful in understanding the correlation coefficient.
  • Logic: In logic, Venn diagrams are used to visually represent logical propositions and their relationships.
  • Problem Solving: Venn diagrams can be used to solve problems related to sets, especially in probability, where understanding the relationships between different events is crucial. Additionally, they can aid in solving problems involving Bayes' Theorem.

Example Question:

In a class of 30 students, 18 students play football, 20 play basketball, and 12 play both football and basketball. Using a Venn diagram, determine how many students don't play either of the two sports.

Solution: First, let's denote the set of students who play football as F and those who play basketball as B.

From the information given:

  • n(F) = 18 (number of students who play football)
  • n(B) = 20 (number of students who play basketball)
  • n(F ∩ B) = 12 (number of students who play both sports)

Using the principle of inclusion-exclusion: n(F ∪ B) = n(F) + n(B) - n(F ∩ B) n(F ∪ B) = 18 + 20 - 12 = 26

Therefore, 26 students play at least one of the two sports. So, the number of students who don't play either sport is 30 - 26 = 4.

In conclusion, 4 students in the class don't play either football or basketball. For further reading on related concepts, check out the binomial distribution.

Advanced Concepts

Overlapping Sets

In many real-world scenarios, sets can have overlapping elements. This overlap is visually represented in Venn diagrams by the area where two circles intersect. The overlapping region contains elements that belong to both sets.


A subset is a set that contains only elements that are also in another set. If every element in set A is also in set B, then A is a subset of B, denoted as A ⊆ B.

Proper Subset

A proper subset is similar to a subset, but set A cannot be identical to set B. If A is a proper subset of B, it means that B has elements that A doesn't have.

Disjoint Sets

Two sets that have no elements in common are called disjoint sets. Their intersection is an empty set, and in a Venn diagram, their circles do not overlap. Understanding these concepts can also enhance comprehension of the line of best fit in data sets.


The universal set, often denoted as 'U', is a crucial concept in set theory and Venn diagrams. It represents the set of all possible elements under consideration. In a Venn diagram, the universal set is typically represented by a rectangle, with other sets (like circles) inside it. Every element, whether it belongs to a specific set or not, is part of the universal set. The complement of a set, which consists of elements not in that set but in the universal set, is also derived concerning the universal set. Understanding the universal set is essential as it provides context and defines the boundaries for other sets within the diagram.

Venn diagrams are closely related to probability, as they provide a visual way to understand and calculate the probability of combined events. By representing events as sets, Venn diagrams can show the overlap (intersection) between events, helping to determine the probability of both events occurring. They can also depict the union of events, aiding in calculating the probability of either event occurring. Furthermore, by showing complements, Venn diagrams can help find the probability of an event not occurring. Overall, Venn diagrams offer a clear and intuitive way to visualise and solve probability problems involving multiple events.

Venn diagrams are versatile tools that extend beyond the realm of maths. In the real world, they are used in various fields to visualise and analyse data. For instance, in business, Venn diagrams can be used to understand customer segments and their overlaps. In biology, they can depict shared characteristics among different species. In computer science, they can represent logical operations in algorithms. Additionally, they are used in education to teach students about set theory and logic, and in everyday life to make decisions by visually comparing and contrasting different options or criteria.

Venn diagrams and Euler diagrams are both tools used to represent sets and their relationships. The primary difference lies in their representation. A Venn diagram displays all possible logical relations between sets, even if no items exist in a particular category. This means that even if two sets have no overlap, their circles will still intersect in a Venn diagram. On the other hand, an Euler diagram only shows relationships that exist in the real world. If two sets don't overlap, their circles won't intersect in an Euler diagram. In essence, while Venn diagrams are more abstract and theoretical, Euler diagrams are more concrete and represent actual scenarios.

Absolutely! While the most common Venn diagrams depict two sets using two overlapping circles, it's possible to represent three, four, or even more sets. For three sets, a Venn diagram typically uses three overlapping circles, creating a distinct area for every possible intersection of the sets. As the number of sets increases, the diagram becomes more complex. For instance, representing four sets might use overlapping ellipses or other shapes. However, as the number of sets grows, the diagrams can become more challenging to draw and interpret, but they remain a powerful tool for visualising complex relationships.

Practice Questions

In a music festival, 150 people attended on Friday, 200 people on Saturday, and 80 people attended on both days. Using a Venn diagram, how many people attended only on Friday?

To determine the number of people who attended only on Friday, we can use the principle of inclusion-exclusion. Let's denote the set of people who attended on Friday as F and those who attended on Saturday as S.

From the information given:

  • n(F) = 150 (number of people who attended on Friday)
  • n(S) = 200 (number of people who attended on Saturday)
  • n(F ∩ S) = 80 (number of people who attended on both days)

Using the principle: n(F only) = n(F) - n(F ∩ S) n(F only) = 150 - 80 = 70

Therefore, 70 people attended the music festival only on Friday.

In a school survey, 60 students liked maths, 50 students liked science, and 20 students liked both maths and science. Using a Venn diagram, how many students liked only science?

To find out the number of students who liked only science, we can use the principle of inclusion-exclusion. Let's denote the set of students who liked maths as M and those who liked science as SC.

From the information given:

  • n(M) = 60 (number of students who liked maths)
  • n(SC) = 50 (number of students who liked science)
  • n(M ∩ SC) = 20 (number of students who liked both maths and science)

Using the principle: n(SC only) = n(SC) - n(M ∩ SC) n(SC only) = 50 - 20 = 30

Therefore, 30 students in the school liked only science.

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa avatar
Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa
Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

Hire a tutor

Please fill out the form and we'll find a tutor for you.

1/2 About yourself
Still have questions?
Let's get in touch.