5.2 — Arithmetic operators

Unary arithmetic operators

There are two unary arithmetic operators, plus (+), and minus (-). As a reminder, unary operators are operators that only take one operand.

Operator Symbol Form Operation
Unary plus + +x Value of x
Unary minus - -x Negation of x

The unary minus operator returns the operand multiplied by -1. In other words, if x = 5, -x is -5.

The unary plus operator returns the value of the operand. In other words, +5 is 5, and +x is x. Generally you won’t need to use this operator since it’s redundant. It was added largely to provide symmetry with the unary minus operator.

For best effect, both of these operators should be placed immediately preceding the operand (e.g. -x, not - x).

Do not confuse the unary minus operator with the binary subtraction operator, which uses the same symbol. For example, in the expression x = 5 - -3;, the first minus is the binary subtraction operator, and the second is the unary minus operator.

Binary arithmetic operators

There are 5 binary arithmetic operators. Binary operators are operators that take a left and right operand.

Operator Symbol Form Operation
Addition + x + y x plus y
Subtraction - x - y x minus y
Multiplication * x * y x multiplied by y
Division / x / y x divided by y
Modulus (Remainder) % x % y The remainder of x divided by y

The addition, subtraction, and multiplication operators work just like they do in real life, with no caveats.

Division and modulus (remainder) need some additional explanation. We’ll talk about division below, and modulus in the next lesson.

Integer and floating point division

It is easiest to think of the division operator as having two different “modes”.

If either (or both) of the operands are floating point values, the division operator performs floating point division. Floating point division returns a floating point value, and the fraction is kept. For example, 7.0 / 4 = 1.75, 7 / 4.0 = 1.75, and 7.0 / 4.0 = 1.75. As with all floating point arithmetic operations, rounding errors may occur.

If both of the operands are integers, the division operator performs integer division instead. Integer division drops any fractions and returns an integer value. For example, 7 / 4 = 1 because the fractional portion of the result is dropped. Similarly, -7 / 4 = -1 because the fraction is dropped.


Prior to C++11, integer division with a negative operand could round up or down. Thus -5 / 3 could result in -1 or -2. This was fixed in C++11, which always drops the fraction (rounds towards 0).

Using static_cast<> to do floating point division with integers

The above begs the question -- if we have two integers, and want to divide them without losing the fraction, how would we do so?

In lesson 4.11 -- Chars, we showed how we could use the static_cast<> operator to convert a char into an integer so it would print as an integer rather than a character.

We can similarly use static_cast<> to convert an integer to a floating point number so that we can do floating point division instead of integer division. Consider the following code:

This produces the result:

int / int = 1
double / int = 1.75
int / double = 1.75
double / double = 1.75

The above illustrates that if either operand is a floating point number, the result will be floating point division, not integer division.

Dividing by zero

Trying to divide by 0 (or 0.0) will generally cause your program to crash, as the results are mathematically undefined!

If you run the above program and enter 0, your program will either crash or terminate abnormally. Go ahead and try it, it won’t harm your computer.

Arithmetic assignment operators

Operator Symbol Form Operation
Assignment = x = y Assign value y to x
Addition assignment += x += y Add y to x
Subtraction assignment -= x -= y Subtract y from x
Multiplication assignment *= x *= y Multiply x by y
Division assignment /= x /= y Divide x by y
Modulus assignment %= x %= y Put the remainder of x / y in x

Up to this point, when you’ve needed to add 5 to a variable, you’ve likely done the following:

This works, but it’s a little clunky, and takes two operators to execute (operator+, and operator=).

Because writing statements such as x = x + 5 is so common, C++ provides 5 arithmetic assignment operators for convenience. Instead of writing x = x + 5, you can write x += 5. Instead of x = x * y, you can write x *= y.

Thus, the above becomes:

5.3 -- Modulus and Exponentiation
5.1 -- Operator precedence and associativity

60 comments to 5.2 — Arithmetic operators

  • Gayan

  • person

    So is the first number within the parenthesis of pow always the base and is the second number always the exponent?

  • gigi

    Hi Alex
    In your examples you use:

    Can be changed to:


  • OKlandshire

    Hi Alex and thanks for the great tutorials. Although i have a question. I don't get it. truncate up or down or towards 0.In C++11 who i am interested whats is the correct answer?
    -5 / 2  !=  5 / (-2) ?
    -5 / 2  ==  (-1)* (5 / 2) ???? = -1???
    5 / (-2) == (-2) + (+2) + (+2) + (+2) = 4???  and remainder 1???

    I am a bit confused....

    • Alex

      I've updated the wording in the lesson to try and make this more clear. In C++11, integer division always truncates towards 0 (or put more simply, the fractional component is dropped).

      In normal math, -5 / 2 would be -2.5, but C++11 drops the fractional component for integer division, so you get -2.

  • tranmonglong

    bool isEven(int x)
        return (x % 2) == 0;

    Hi Alex.I think writing funtion like this is short but is it good because it is may be complicate to comprehend when we read it again .Thank you so much

  • techsavvy....aye

    Is this okay-

  • Eric

    I wrote a version of the number printing program that lines them all up nicely, just for fun.

    Is there a way I could've done what I did more optimally?

  • Twisted Code

    "Note that trying to divide by 0 (or 0.0) will generally cause your program to crash, as the result are undefined!"
    Looks like lime cat's lime's I/O buffer got empty again, or something. Seriously, that thing needs an upgrade.

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