An expression is a sequence of operators and their operands, that specifies a computation.

Expression evaluation may produce a result (e.g., evaluation of 2+2 produces the result 4), may generate side-effects (e.g. evaluation of printf("%d",4) sends the character '4' to the standard output stream), and may designate objects or functions.


  • value categories (lvalue, non-lvalue object, function designator) classify expressions by their values
  • order of evaluation of arguments and subexpressions specifies the order in which intermediate results are obtained


Common operators
assignment increment
arithmetic logical comparison member

a = b a += b a -= b a *= b a /= b a %= b a &= b a |= b a ^= b a <<= b a >>= b.

++a --a a++ a--

+a -a a + b a - b a * b a / b a % b ~a a & b a | b a ^ b a << b a >> b.

!a a && b a || b.

a == b a != b a < b a > b a <= b a >= b.

a[b] *a &a a->b a.b.

a(...) a, b (type) a ? : sizeof _Alignof (since C11).


  • Implicit conversions take place when types of operands do not match the expectations of operators
  • Casts may be used to explicitly convert values from one type to another.


  • constant expressions can be evaluated at compile time and used in compile-time context (non-VLA (since C99)array sizes, static initializers, etc)
  • generic selections can execute different expressions depending on the types of the arguments
(since C11)
(since C99)

Primary expressions

The operands of any operator may be other expressions or they may be primary expressions (e.g. in 1+2*3, the operands of operator+ are the subexpression 2*3 and the primary expression 1).

Primary expressions are any of the following:

1) Constants and literals (e.g. 2 or "Hello, world")
2) Suitably declared identifiers (e.g. n or printf)
3) Generic selections (since C11)

Any expression in parentheses is also classified as a primary expression: this guarantees that the parentheses have higher precedence than any operator.

Constants and literals

Constant values of certain types may be embedded in the source code of a C program using specialized expressions known as literals (for lvalue expressions) and constants (for non-lvalue expressions).

  • integer constants are decimal, octal, or hexadecimal numbers of integer type.
  • character constants are individual characters of type int suitable for conversion to a character type or of type char16_t, char32_t, or (since C11)wchar_t
  • floating constants are values of type float, double, or long double
(since C23)
  • string literals are sequences of characters of type char[], char16_t[], char32_t[], (since C11) or wchar_t[] that represent null-terminated strings
  • compound literals are values of struct, union, or array type directly embedded in program code
(since C99)

Unevaluated expressions

The operands of the sizeof operator are expressions that are not evaluated (unless they are VLAs) (since C99). Thus, size_t n = sizeof(printf("%d", 4)); does not perform console output.

The operands of the _Alignof operator, the controlling expression of a generic selection, and size expressions of VLAs that are operands of _Alignof are also expressions that are not evaluated.

(since C11)


  • C17 standard (ISO/IEC 9899:2018):
    • 6.5 Expressions (p: 55-75)
    • 6.6 Constant expressions (p: 76-77)
  • C11 standard (ISO/IEC 9899:2011):
    • 6.5 Expressions (p: 76-105)
    • 6.6 Constant expressions (p: 106-107)
  • C99 standard (ISO/IEC 9899:1999):
    • 6.5 Expressions (p: 67-94)
    • 6.6 Constant expressions (p: 95-96)
  • C89/C90 standard (ISO/IEC 9899:1990):

See also

C++ documentation for Expressions

© cppreference.com
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Unported License v3.0.