Increment and decrement operators

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Increment and decrement operators are unary operators that add or subtract one from their operand, respectively. They are commonly implemented in imperative programming languages. C-like languages feature two versions (pre- and post-) of each operator with slightly different semantics.

In languages syntactically derived from B (including C and its various derivatives), the increment operator is written as ++ and the decrement operator is written as --.

The increment operator increases the value of its operand by 1. The operand must have an arithmetic or pointer data type, and must refer to a modifiable data object. Similarly, the decrement operator decreases the value of its modifiable arithmetic operand by 1. Pointers values are increased (or decreased) by an amount that makes them point to the next (or previous) element adjacent in memory.

In languages that support both versions of the operators, the pre-increment and pre-decrement operators increment (or decrement) their operand by 1, and the value of the expression is the resulting incremented (or decremented) value. In contrast, the post-increment and post-decrement operators increase (or decrease) the value of their operand by 1, but the value of the expression is the operand's original value prior to the increment (or decrement) operation. In languages where increment/decrement is not an expression (e.g. Go), only one version is needed (in the case of Go, post operators only).

Since the increment/decrement operator modifies its operand, use of such an operand more than once within the same expression can produce undefined results. For example, in expressions such as x − ++x, it is not clear in what sequence the subtraction and increment operations should be performed. Such expressions generally invoke undefined behavior, and should be avoided.


The following C code fragment illustrates the difference between the pre and post increment and decrement operators:

int  x;
int  y;

// Increment operators
x = 1;
y = ++x;    // x is now 2, y is also 2
y = x++;    // x is now 3, y is 2

// Decrement operators
x = 3;
y = x--;    // x is now 2, y is 3
y = --x;    // x is now 1, y is also 1

The post-increment operator is commonly used with array subscripts. For example:

// Sum the elements of an array
float sum_elements(float arr[], int n)
    float  sum = 0.0;
    int    i =   0;

    while (i < n)
        sum += arr[i++];    // Post-increment of i, which steps
                            //  through n elements of the array
    return sum;

Likewise, the post-increment operator is commonly used with pointers:

// Copy one array to another
void copy_array(float *src, float *dst, int n)
    while (n-- > 0)        // Loop that counts down from n to zero
        *dst++ = *src++;   // Copies element *(src) to *(dst),
                           //  then increments both pointers

Note that these examples also work in other C-like languages, such as C++, Java, and C#.

Supporting languages[edit]

The following list, though not complete or all-inclusive, lists some of the major programming languages that support the ++/-- increment/decrement operators.

(Apple's Swift once supported these operators,[7] but support was removed as of version 3.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "GNU Awk's User Guide". Free Software Foundation. 
  2. ^ "8.3. The Double-Parentheses Construct". The Linux Documentation Project. 
  3. ^ Ritchie, Brian W. Kernighan; Dennis M.; Ritchie, Dennis (1988). The C programming language (2. ed., [Nachdr.] ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall. p. 18. ISBN 0-13-110362-8. 
  4. ^ "Increment/decrement operators". 
  5. ^ "++ Operator (C# Reference)". Microsoft Developer Network. 
  6. ^ "Operator Overloading". 
  7. ^ "Basic Operators".