Hinge loss

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Plot of hinge loss (blue) vs. zero-one loss (misclassification, green: y < 0) for t = 1 and variable y. Note that the hinge loss penalizes predictions y < 1, corresponding to the notion of a margin in a support vector machine.

In machine learning, the hinge loss is a loss function used for training classifiers. The hinge loss is used for "maximum-margin" classification, most notably for support vector machines (SVMs).[1] For an intended output t = ±1 and a classifier score y, the hinge loss of the prediction y is defined as

\ell(y) = \max(0, 1-t \cdot y)

Note that y should be the "raw" output of the classifier's decision function, not the predicted class label. E.g., in linear SVMs, y = \mathbf{w} \cdot \mathbf{x} + b.

It can be seen that when t and y have the same sign (meaning y predicts the right class) and |y| \ge 1, the hinge loss \ell(y) = 0, but when they have opposite sign, \ell(y) increases linearly with y (one-sided error).


While SVMs are commonly extended to multiclass classification in a one-vs.-all or one-vs.-one fashion,[2] there exists a "true" multiclass version of the hinge loss due to Crammer and Singer,[3] defined for a linear classifier as[4]

\ell(y) = \max(0, 1 + \max_{y \ne t} \mathbf{w}_y \mathbf{x} - \mathbf{w}_t \mathbf{x})

In structured prediction, the hinge loss can be further extended to structured output spaces. Structured SVMs use the following variant, where y denotes the SVM's parameters, φ the joint feature function, and Δ the Hamming loss:

\ell(\mathbf{y}) & = \Delta(\mathbf{y}, \mathbf{t}) + \langle \mathbf{w}, \phi(\mathbf{x}, \mathbf{y}) \rangle - \langle \mathbf{w}, \phi(\mathbf{x}, \mathbf{t}) \rangle \\
                 & = \max_{y \in \mathcal{Y}} \left( \Delta(\mathbf{y}, \mathbf{t}) + \langle \mathbf{w}, \phi(\mathbf{x}, \mathbf{y}) \rangle \right) - \langle \mathbf{w}, \phi(\mathbf{x}, \mathbf{t}) \rangle


The hinge loss is a convex function, so many of the usual convex optimizers used in machine learning can work with it. It is not differentiable, but has a subgradient with respect to model parameters w of a linear SVM with score function y = \mathbf{w} \cdot \mathbf{x} that is given by

\frac{\partial\ell}{\partial w_i} = \begin{cases} -t \cdot x_i & \text{if } t \cdot y < 1 \\ 0 & \text{otherwise} \end{cases}

However, since the derivative of the hinge loss at ty = 1 is non-deterministic, smoothed versions may be preferred for optimization, such as the quadratically smoothed

\ell(y) = \frac{1}{2\gamma} \max(0, 1 - ty)^2

suggested by Zhang.[5] The modified Huber loss is a special case of this loss function with \gamma = 2.[5]


  1. ^ Rosasco, L.; De Vito, E. D.; Caponnetto, A.; Piana, M.; Verri, A. (2004). "Are Loss Functions All the Same?". Neural Computation 16 (5): 1063–1076. doi:10.1162/089976604773135104. PMID 15070510.  edit
  2. ^ Duan, K. B.; Keerthi, S. S. (2005). "Which Is the Best Multiclass SVM Method? An Empirical Study". Multiple Classifier Systems. LNCS 3541. pp. 278–285. doi:10.1007/11494683_28. ISBN 978-3-540-26306-7.  edit
  3. ^ Crammer, Koby; Singer, Yoram (2001). "On the algorithmic implementation of multiclass kernel-based vector machines". J. Machine Learning Research 2: 265–292. 
  4. ^ Moore, Robert C.; DeNero, John (2011). "Proc. Symp. on Machine Learning in Speech and Language Processing".  |chapter= ignored (help)
  5. ^ a b Zhang, Tong (2004). "Solving large scale linear prediction problems using stochastic gradient descent algorithms". ICML.