C Tutorial



C Tutorial

Operator Precedence and Associativity in C


Expression evaluation order in the C programming language is governed by two key ideas: operator precedence and associativity. Comprehending these ideas is essential to write effective and proper C programs. This article will thoroughly discuss Operator precedence and associativity, along with in-depth explanations, illustrations, sample problems, and best practices.

Application Of Operator Priority And Associativity In C

Expressions are constructed in C by combining variables, constants, and operators. The outcome of an expression can be considerably influenced by the sequence in which operators are evaluated. To ensure the desired outcome, the proper order of evaluation is determined by operator precedence and associativity.

Operator Precedence:

According to their priority, the hierarchy of operators is defined by operator precedence. It specifies which operators in an expression are evaluated first. When there are numerous operators, the higher precedence operator is evaluated before, the lower precedence operator.

Let's look at an example to show how operator precedence works:

int result = 5+3 * 2;

Without operator precedence, the expression would evaluate as (5+3) * 2, resulting in 16. However, due to the higher precedence of the multiplication operator (*), the expression evaluates as 5 (3 * 2), resulting in 11. 

A set of guidelines governs operator precedence in C. The operators are listed in the following table in decreasing order of precedence:



Parentheses ()


Postfix increment, postfix decrement --

Postfix increment and decrement

Prefix increment, prefix decrement --

Prefix increment and decrement

Unary, unary -

Unary plus and minus

Logical NOT!

Logical NOT

Bitwise NOT ~

Bitwise NOT

Multiplication *, division /, modulus %

Multiplication, division, and modulus

Addition, subtraction -

Addition and subtraction

Bitwise left shift <<, bitwise right shift >>

Bitwise left and right shift

Relational and equality operators <, >, <=, >=, ==, !=

Comparison operators

Bitwise AND &

Bitwise AND

Bitwise XOR ^

Bitwise XOR

Bitwise OR `


Logical AND &&

Logical AND

Logical OR `

Ternary conditional? :

Ternary conditional

Assignment operators =, =, -=, *=, /=, %=, <<=, >>=, &=, ^=, `



Comma operator

Parentheses can be used to change the default precedence and formally determine the order of evaluation, it's vital to remember this. When employed, brackets cause their enclosing expressions to be evaluated first.

Associativity of Operators

When numerous operators with the same precedence are present in an expression, operator associativity is in effect. It chooses which order these operators are assessed. Left-to-right associativity and right-to-left associativity are the two different types of associativity in C.

Operators with the same precedence are assessed from left to right according to left-to-right associativity. For instance, the subtraction operators have left-to-right associativity in the statement x = a - b - c. The expression is therefore calculated as (a - b) - (c).

On the other hand, associativity that operates from right to left requires that operators with the same precedence be evaluated in that direction. An example of an operator with right-to-left associativity is the assignment operator (=). For instance, the assignment in the phrase x = y = z is evaluated from right to left, first giving y the value of z and then giving x the value of y.

Summary of Operator Precedence and Associativity in C 

In conclusion, operator precedence and associativity play crucial roles in the proper evaluation of expressions in C. Operator associativity establishes the order of evaluation for operators with the same precedence. In contrast, operator precedence determines the order of evaluation based on the priority of the operators. Expressions can be correctly assessed if you adhere to the predefined rules.

Common Errors and Recommended Practises

There are certain frequent dangers to be aware of while working with operator precedence and associativity in C. You can steer clear of mistakes and produce more dependable code by being aware of these risks and adhering to best practices.

1. Pitfall: Failing to use brackets when required.

Use brackets to describe the intended order of evaluation when an expression contains multiple operators with distinct precedences. Failure to do so could produce inaccurate results.


int result = 4+6 / 2 - 1;

In this case, the division (/) operator has higher precedence than addition ( ) and subtraction (-). However, without parentheses, the expression is evaluated from left to right, resulting in 5+3 - 1 = 7, which is incorrect. To fix this, the expression should be written as: 

int result = (4+6) / 2 - 1;

Now, the addition is evaluated first, followed by division and subtraction, resulting in the correct answer: (4+6) / 2 - 1 = 4. 

Best Practice: When there is a chance of ambiguity because of several operators, always use brackets to state the order of evaluation explicitly.

2. Pitfall: Using operator precedence alone without taking associativity into account.

When operators have the same precedence, associativity takes over, but operator precedence controls the order of evaluation for operators with differing precedences. Unexpected outcomes can emerge from failing to take associativity into account.


int x = 5;
int y = 7;
int z = 3;
int result = x - y - z;

In this case, both the subtraction operators have the same precedence. However, the associativity of subtraction is left-to-right. Therefore, the expression is evaluated as (x - y) - z, resulting in -5 - 3 = -8. If the desired result is 5 - (7 - 3) = 1, parentheses must be used: 

int result = x - (y - z);

Best Practice: When creating expressions, especially when working with operators of the same precedence, take into account both operator precedence and associativity.

3. Pitfall: Misuse of similar symbols and different operators.

Stack in C offers Different operators, some of which may share symbols but have distinct semantics. Combining them may result in grammatical mistakes or unexpected behavior.


int x = 10;
int y = 5;
int result = x & y 1;  // Syntax error: mixing bitwise AND (&) with addition ( )

The ' ' operator is an addition operator in this case, while the '&' operator is a bitwise AND operator. A syntax error occurs when these operators are combined without the correct brackets. To overcome this, you can provide brackets to specify the evaluations' intended sequence:

int result = (x & y) 1;

Best Practice: Be aware of the various operators that could share symbols and use brackets to clarify phrases as needed.

4. Pitfall: Misuse of the increment and decrement operators.

If not utilized properly, the increment ( ) and decrement (--) operators can lead to confusion. Unexpected outcomes can emerge from varying their placement within an expression or from utilizing them more than once within the same expression.


int x = 5;
int y = 0;
int result = x - --y;  // Undefined behavior: mixing and multiple usages of increment and decrement operators

In this illustration, the operators for postfix increment ( ) and prefix decrement (--) are combined in equation x - --y. This expression's behavior is unknown because it is uncertain whether it will increase or decrease. It's best to employ these operators independently and clearly to prevent such problems.

Best Practice: Using the increment and decrement operators together within the same expression is not recommended. Make sure that they are used clearly and in the intended assessment sequence.

Several Things to Keep in Mind

Following are some crucial considerations for operator precedence and associativity in C:

1.Operators are evaluated in order of higher precedence before lower precedence operators.

2. To explicitly set the order of evaluation and override the default precedence, use brackets.

3. To compare operators with the same precedence, associativity—which can be either left-to-right or right-to-left—is used.

4. it is essential to comprehend operator precedence and associativity to create effective and proper C programs.

Practice Problems on Operator Precedence and Associativity in C 

Let's use operator precedence and associativity for the following issues for practice:

  1. Evaluate the following expression: x = 4 6 / 2 - 1.

  2. Predict the output of the following code snippet:

int a = 5;
int b = 7;
int c = 3;
int result = a - b / c;
printf("%d," result);


  1. x = 4 (6 / 2) - 1 evaluates to x = 4 3 - 1, resulting in x = 6.

  2. The expression a - b / c evaluates to a - (b / c). Since b / c is an integer division, the result is 2. Therefore, result = a - (b / c) becomes result = 5 - 2, resulting in result = 3. The output will be 3 when printed.


Associativity and operator precedence are fundamental ideas in the C programming language. You may ensure that expressions are accurately evaluated and give the desired results by comprehending these ideas and adhering to the stated rules. To become a skilled C programmer, you must master operator precedence and associativity.


1. What does operator precedence in C serve?

Operator precedence determines how an expression's operators are evaluated, resulting in consistent and predictable outcomes.

2. How does expression evaluation depend on operator associativity?

For operators with the same precedence, the order of evaluation is determined by operator associativity. While right-to-left associativity evaluates operators from right to left, left-to-right associativity does the opposite.

3. Can operator precedence be changed using brackets?

Yes, brackets can be used to explicitly indicate the order of evaluation in an expression and override the default precedence.

4. What occurs in C when two operators with the same precedence?

When two operators are evaluated in the same sequence, their associativity, which can be either left-to-right or right-to-left, determines their precedence.

5. Is the complete operator precedence table required to be retained in memory?

The most frequently used operators and their precedence must be well understood to write accurate and effective code while memorizing the full table is unnecessary.

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