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Predicates and Quantifiers

Last Updated : 06 Feb, 2024
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Prerequisite :

Introduction to Propositional Logic


Consider the following example. We need to convert the following sentence into a mathematical statement using propositional logic only.

"Every person who is 18 years or older, is eligible to vote."

The above statement cannot be adequately expressed using only propositional logic. The problem in trying to do so is that propositional logic is not expressive enough to deal with quantified variables. It would have been easier if the statement were referring to a specific person. But since it is not the case and the statement applies to all people who are 18 years or older, we are stuck. Therefore we need a more powerful type of logic.

Predicate Logic

Predicate logic is an extension of Propositional logic. It adds the concept of predicates and quantifiers to better capture the meaning of statements that cannot be adequately expressed by propositional logic.

What is a predicate?

Consider the statement, “


is greater than 3″. It has two parts. The first part, the variable


, is the subject of the statement. The second part, “is greater than 3”, is the


. It refers to a property that the subject of the statement can have. The statement “


is greater than 3″ can be denoted by




denotes the predicate “is greater than 3” and


is the variable. The predicate


can be considered as a function. It tells the truth value of the statement




. Once a value has been assigned to the variable


, the statement


becomes a proposition and has a truth or false(tf) value. In general, a statement involving n variables

x1, x2, x3,.. , xn

can be denoted by

P(x1, x2, x3,.. , xn)

. Here


is also referred to as

n-place predicate

or a

n-ary predicate


  • Example 1: Let P(x) denote the statement “x > 10″. What are the truth values of P(11) and P(5) ? Solution: P(11) is equivalent to the statement 11 > 10, which is True. P(5) is equivalent to the statement 5 > 10, which is False.
  • Example 2: Let R(x,y) denote the statement “x = y + 1 “.  What is the truth value of the propositions R(1,3) and R(2,1) ? Solution: R(1,3) is the statement 1 = 3 + 1, which is False. R(2,1) is the statement 2 = 1 + 1, which is True.

What are quantifiers?

In predicate logic, predicates are used alongside quantifiers to express the extent to which a predicate is true over a range of elements. Using quantifiers to create such propositions is called


. There are two types of quantification-

1. Universal Quantification-

Mathematical statements sometimes assert that a property is true for all the values of a variable in a particular domain, called the

domain of discourse

. Such a statement is expressed using universal quantification. The universal quantification of


for a particular domain is the proposition that asserts that


is true for all values of


in this domain. The domain is very important here since it decides the possible values of


. The meaning of the universal quantification of


changes when the domain is changed. The domain must be specified when a universal quantification is used, as without it, it has no meaning.

The universal quantification of P(x) is the statement
"P(x) for all values of x in the domain"

The notation \forall P(x) denotes the universal quantification of P(x).
Here \forall is called the universal quantifier.
\forall P(x) is read as "for all x P(x)".

  • Example 1: Let P(x) be the statement “x + 2  > x “. What is the truth value of the statement \forall xP(x) ? Solution: As x+2 is greater than x for any real number, so P(x) \equiv T for all x or \forall xP(x) \equiv T .

2. Existential Quantification-

Some mathematical statements assert that there is an element with a certain property. Such statements are expressed by existential quantification. Existential quantification can be used to form a proposition that is true if and only if


is true for at least one value of


in the domain.

The existential quantification of P(x) is the statement
"There exists an element x in the domain such that P(x)"

The notation \exists P(x) denotes the existential quantification of P(x).
Here \exists is called the existential quantifier.
\exists P(x) is read as "There is atleast one such x such that P(x)".

  • Example : Let P(x) be the statement “x > 5″. What is the truth value of the statement \exists xP(x) ? Solution:  P(x) is true for all real numbers greater than 5 and false for all real numbers less than 5. So \exists xP(x) \equiv T .

To summarise,

\begin{tabular}{||c||c||c||}\hlineStatement & When True? & When False? \\\hline\hline\forall P(x) & P(x) is\:true\:for\:all\:x & There\:is\:an\:x\:for\:which\:P(x)\:is\:false \\\hline\exists P(x) & There\:is\:an\:x\:for\:which\:P(x)\:is\:true & P(x) is\:false\:for\:all\:x \\\hline\end{tabular}

Now if we try to convert the statement, given in the beginning of this article, into a mathematical statement using predicate logic, we would get something like-

\forall P(x) \leftrightarrow Q(x) \\
Here, P(x) is the statement "x is 18 years or older and,
Q(x) is the statement "x is eligible to vote".

Notice that the given statement is not mentioned as a biconditional and yet we used one. This is because Natural language is ambiguous sometimes, and we made an assumption. This assumption was made since it is true that a person can vote if and only if he/she is 18 years or older. Refer

Introduction to Propositional Logic

for more explanation.

Other Quantifiers –

Although the universal and existential quantifiers are the most important in Mathematics and Computer Science, they are not the only ones. In Fact, there is no limitation on the number of different quantifiers that can be defined, such as “exactly two”, “there are no more than three”, “there are at least 10”, and so on. Of all the other possible quantifiers, the one that is seen most often is the

uniqueness quantifier

, denoted by

\exists !


The notation \exists !xP(x) states "There exists a unique x such that P(x) is true".

Quantifiers with restricted domains

As we know that quantifiers are meaningless if the variables they bind do not have a domain. The following abbreviated notation is used to restrict the domain of the variables-

\forall x

> 0,


> 0. The above statement restricts the domain of


, and is a shorthand for writing another proposition, that says

x > 0

, in the statement. If we try to rewrite this statement using an implication, we would get-

\forall x (x


0\: \rightarrow \: x^2



Similarly, a statement using Existential quantifier can be restated using conjunction between the domain restricting proposition and the actual predicate.

  1. Restriction of universal quantification is the same as the universal quantification of a conditional statement.
  2. Restriction of an existential quantification is the same as the existential quantification of conjunction.

Definitions to Note:

1. Binding variables-

A variable whose occurrence is bound by a quantifier is called a


variable. Variables not bound by any quantifiers are called



2. Scope-

The part of the logical expression to which a quantifier is applied is called the


of the quantifier. This topic has been covered in two parts. The second part of this topic is explained in another article –

Predicates and Quantifiers – Set 2


First Order Logic – WikipediaQuantifiers – WikipediaDiscrete Mathematics and its Applications, by Kenneth H Rosen

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