One of the most intriguing conjectures in extremal graph theory is a conjecture of Erdős and Sós from 1962, which asserts that every n-vertex graph with more than k−12n edges contains any k-edge tree as a subgraph. Kalai proposed a generalization of this conjecture to hypergraphs. To explain the generalization, we need to define the concept of a tight tree in an r-uniform hypergraph, i.e., a hypergraph where each edge contains r vertices. A tight tree is an r-uniform hypergraph such that there is an ordering v1,…,vn of its vertices with the following property: the vertices v1,…,vr form an edge and for every i>r, there is a single edge e containing the vertex vi and r−1 of the vertices v1,…,vi−1, and e∖{vi} is a subset of one of the edges consisting only of vertices from v1,…,vi−1. The conjecture of Kalai asserts that every n-vertex r-uniform hypergraph with more than k−1r(nr−1) edges contains every k-edge tight tree as a subhypergraph. The recent breakthrough results on the existence of combinatorial designs by Keevash and by Glock, Kühn, Lo and Osthus show that this conjecture, if true, would be tight for infinitely many values of n for every r and k.

The article deals with the special case of the conjecture when the tight tree sought is a path, i.e., the edges are the r-tuples of consecutive vertices in the above ordering. The case r=2 is the famous Erdős-Gallai theorem on the existence of paths in graphs. The case r=3 and k=4 follows from an earlier work of the authors on the conjecture of Kalai. The main result of the article is the first non-trivial upper bound valid for all r and k. The proof is based on techniques developed for a closely related problem where a hypergraph comes with a geometric structure: the vertices are points in the plane in a strictly convex position and the path is required to zigzag between the vertices.