Arithmetic Operators in Programming: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 The Importance of Operators
  • 0:34 What Is an Arithmetic…
  • 1:42 What Are Some…
  • 2:42 Examples
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

We ask computers to perform a variety of operations for us during the course of a day. In this lesson, we'll define arithmetic operators, highlight some of the common ones, and give some specific examples.

The Importance of Operators

Arithmetic skills are a useful thing to have these days. We use them to determine how much money we will save on a purchase, to determine if we have enough time to run a quick errand before our bus comes, and to balance our bank account. The fact is, it is difficult to function without at least rudimentary arithmetic skills. The same is true for computers. Although they are fundamentally logic machines, programmers can make them perform numeric operations as well. To do that, they use a capability called operators.

What Is an Arithmetic Operator?

An operator is an indicator, a symbol that shows that some specific operation needs to be performed within a computer program. These operators can be arithmetic, logical, or relational, and mimic what we see in the real-world. If you think back to grade school, you will remember them as the rules of addition and subtraction, and even those many multiplication tables you needed to memorize! It works much the same way with computers. We ask them to perform various formula-based calculations in the programs we write.

An arithmetic operator in programming is a subset of these indicators or symbols that denote that a specific mathematical operation is needed. You can think of them much like their real-world equivalents. They form part of a program statement that determines the result required. For example, you would use one or more operators to calculate the total dollars you are paid in your paycheck or the total amount you owe when you purchase an item. Operators impact many aspects of our lives, although we are often unaware of them. They do their thing quietly, behind the scenes, as part of the computers we employ.

What Are Some Arithmetic Operators?

Each programming language has its own set of arithmetic operators. Some languages even write them differently in terms of order or symbols used. For example, X + Y (an infix notation), + XY (a prefix notation), and XY+ (a postfix notation) all add the variables X and Y together. When doing mathematics, we commonly use A x B to represent the variables A and B multiplied together. In the computer, we use A * B. Like the real-world, we have commonly used operators in computer science. They include:

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