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In logic, mathematics, and computer science, the arity Listeni/ˈærti/ of a function or operation is the number of arguments or operands that the function takes. The arity of a relation (or predicate) is the dimension of the domain in the corresponding Cartesian product. (A function of arity n thus has arity n+1 considered as a relation.) The term springs from words like unary, binary, ternary, etc. Unary functions or predicates may be also called "monadic"; similarly, binary functions may be called "dyadic".

In mathematics arity may also be named rank,[1][2] but this word can have many other meanings in mathematics. In logic and philosophy, arity is also called adicity and degree.[3][4] In linguistics, arity is usually named valency.[5]

In computer programming, there is often a syntactical distinction between operators and functions; syntactical operators usually have arity 0, 1, or 2 (the ternary operator ?: is also common). Functions vary widely in the number of arguments, though large numbers can become unwieldy. Some programming languages also offer support for variadic functions, i.e., functions syntactically accepting a variable number of arguments.


The term "arity" is rarely employed in everyday usage. For example, rather than saying "the arity of the addition operation is 2" or "addition is an operation of arity 2" one usually says "addition is a binary operation". In general, the naming of functions or operators with a given arity follows a convention similar to the one used for n-based numeral systems such as binary and hexadecimal. One combines a Latin prefix with the -ary ending; for example:


Sometimes it is useful to consider a constant to be an operation of arity 0, and hence call it nullary.

Also, in non-functional programming, a function without arguments can be meaningful and not necessarily constant (due to side effects). Often, such functions have in fact some hidden input which might be global variables, including the whole state of the system (time, free memory, ...). The latter are important examples which usually also exist in "purely" functional programming languages.


Examples of unary operators in mathematics and in programming include the unary minus and plus, the increment and decrement operators in C-style languages (not in logical languages), and the factorial, reciprocal, floor, ceiling, fractional part, sign, absolute value, complex conjugate (unary of "one" complex number, that however has two parts at a lower level of abstraction), and norm functions in mathematics. The two's complement, address reference and the logical NOT operators are examples of unary operators in math and programming.

All functions in lambda calculus and in some functional programming languages (especially those descended from ML) are technically unary, but see n-ary below.

According to Quine, the Latin distributives being singuli, bini, terni, and so forth, the term "singulary" is the correct adjective, rather than "unary."[6] Abraham Robinson follows Quine's usage.[7]


Most operators encountered in programming are of the binary form. For both programming and mathematics these can be the multiplication operator, the addition operator, the division operator. Logical predicates such as OR, XOR, AND, IMP are typically used as binary operators with two distinct operands. In CISC architectures, it's common to have two source operands (and store result in one of them).


From C, C++, C#, Java, Julia, Perl and variants comes the ternary operator ?:, which is a so-called conditional operator, taking three parameters. Forth also contains a ternary operator, */, which multiplies the first two (one-cell) numbers, dividing by the third, with the intermediate result being a double cell number. This is used when the intermediate result would overflow a single cell. Python has a ternary conditional expression, x if C else y. The dc calculator has several ternary operators, such as |, which will pop three values from the stack and efficiently compute with arbitrary precision. Additionally, many (RISC) assembly language instructions are ternary (as opposed to only two operands specified in CISC); or higher, such as MOV %AX, (%BX,%CX), which will load (MOV) into register AX the contents of a calculated memory location that is the sum (parenthesis) of the registers BX and CX.


From a mathematical point of view, a function of n arguments can always be considered as a function of one single argument which is an element of some product space. However, it may be convenient for notation to consider n-ary functions, as for example multilinear maps (which are not linear maps on the product space, if n≠1).

The same is true for programming languages, where functions taking several arguments could always be defined as functions taking a single argument of some composite type such as a tuple, or in languages with higher-order functions, by currying.

Variable arity[edit]

In computer science, a function accepting a variable number of arguments is called variadic. In logic and philosophy, predicates or relations accepting a variable number of arguments are called multigrade, anadic, or variably polyadic.[8]

Other names[edit]

There are Latinate names for specific arities, primarily based on Latin distributive numbers meaning "in group of n", though some are based on cardinal numbers or ordinal numbers. Only binary and ternary are both commonly used and derived from distributive numbers.

  • Nullary means 0-ary (from nūllus, zero not being well-understood in antiquity).
  • Unary means 1-ary (from cardinal unus, rather than singulary from distributive singulī).
  • Binary means 2-ary.
  • Ternary means 3-ary.
  • Quaternary means 4-ary.
  • Quinary means 5-ary.
  • Senary means 6-ary.
  • Septenary means 7-ary.
  • Octonary means 8-ary (alternatively octary).
  • Novenary means 9-ary (alternatively nonary, from ordinal).
  • Denary means 10-ary (alternatively decenary)
  • Polyadic, multary and multiary mean 2 or more operands (or parameters).
  • n-ary means n operands (or parameters), but is often used as a synonym of "polyadic".

So we can use any decimal unit prefix to expand the concept to yottenary or googolplexanary, so in this way each ary is made of 1010100-ary, still no usage found yet.

An alternative nomenclature is derived in a similar fashion from the corresponding Greek roots; for example, niladic (or medadic), monadic, dyadic, triadic, polyadic, and so on. Thence derive the alternative terms adicity and adinity for the Latin-derived arity.

These words are often used to describe anything related to that number (e.g., undenary chess is a chess variant with an 11×11 board, or the Millenary Petition of 1603).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michiel Hazewinkel (2001). Encyclopaedia of Mathematics, Supplement III. Springer. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4020-0198-7. 
  2. ^ Eric Schechter (1997). Handbook of Analysis and Its Foundations. Academic Press. p. 356. ISBN 978-0-12-622760-4. 
  3. ^ Michael Detlefsen; David Charles McCarty; John B. Bacon (1999). Logic from A to Z. Routeledge. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-415-21375-2. 
  4. ^ Nino B. Cocchiarella; Max A. Freund (2008). Modal Logic: An Introduction to its Syntax and Semantics. Oxford University Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-19-536658-7. 
  5. ^ David Crystal (2008). Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (6th ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 507. ISBN 978-1-405-15296-9. 
  6. ^ Quine, W. V. O. (1940), Mathematical logic, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 13 
  7. ^ Robinson, Abraham (1966), "Non-standard Analysis", Amsterdam: North-Holland, p. 19 
  8. ^ Oliver, Alex (2004). "Multigrade Predicates". Mind. 113: 609–681. doi:10.1093/mind/113.452.609. 

External links[edit]

A monograph available free online: