**Central limit theorems** are a set of weak-convergence results in probability theory. Intuitively, they all express the fact that any sum of many independent identically distributed random variables is approximately normally distributed. These results explain the ubiquity of the normal distribution.

The most important and famous result is simply called *The Central Limit Theorem*; it is concerned with independent variables with identical distribution whose expected value and variance are finite.
Several generalizations exist which do not require identical distribution but incorporate some condition which guarantees that none of the variables exert a much larger influence than the others. Two such conditions are the *Lindeberg condition* and the *Lyapunov condition*. Other generalizations even allow some "weak" dependence of the random variables.

The reader may find it helpful to consider this illustration of the central limit theorem.

Table of contents |

2 Lyapunov condition 3 Lindeberg condition 4 Non-independent case 5 External links |

Let *X _{1}*,

Consider the sum :*S _{n}*=

In order to clarify the word "approaches" in the last sentence, we standardize *S*_{n} by setting

If the third central moment E((*X*_{1}-μ)^{3}) exists and is finite, then the above convergence is uniform and the speed of convergence is at least on the order of 1/*n*^{½} (see Berry-Esséen theorem).

*picture of a distribution being "smoothed out" by summation would be nice*

Note the following "paradox": by adding many independent identically distributed *positive* variables, one gets approximately a normal distribution. But for every normally distributed variable, the probability that it is negative is non-zero! How is it possible to get negative numbers from adding only positives? The key lies in the word "approximately". The sum of positive variables is of course always positive, but it is very well approximated by a normal variable (which indeed has a very tiny probability of being negative).

More precisely: the fact that, in this case, for every n there is a z such that Pr(*Z*_{n} ≤ *z*) = 0 does not contradict that for every z we have lim_{n→∞} Pr(*Z*_{n} ≤ *z*) > 0, because in the first case z may depend on n and in the second case n is increased for a fixed z.

The density of the sum of two or more independent variables is the convolution of their densities (if these densities exist). Thus the central limit theorem can be interpreted as a statement about the properties of density functions under convolution: the convolution of a number of density functions tends to the normal density as the number of density functions increases without bound, under the conditions stated above.

Since the characteristic function of a convolution is the product of the characteristic functions of the densities involved, the central limit theorem has yet another restatement: the product of the characteristic functions of a number of density functions tends to the characteristic function of the normal density as the number of density functions increases without bound, under the conditions stated above.

An equivalent statement can be made about Fourier transforms, since the characteristic function is essentially a Fourier transform.