Pronunciation: /ˌɒ pəˈreɪ ʃən/ Explain
In a+b, a and b are operator, and + is an operator. The operation is the entire expression 'a+b'.
a+b is a binary operation, a*b is a binary operation, -n is a binary operation, n! is a binary operation.
Figure 1: Operators, operands and operation.

An operation, such as addition, is a mathematical function performed on one or more operands.[1]

An operation may be unary, meaning it has only one operand. An example of a unary operator is negation, such as -x. The only operand of the minus sign is the x, so it is a unary operator.

An operation may be binary, meaning it has exactly two operands. Most operators in arithmetic are binary. One example is subtraction. In the expression 3x - 2, the subtraction operator combines the two terms, 3x and 2 using the subtraction operation. So subtraction is a binary operation.

There are other classes of operations outside the scope of this encyclopedia.


  1. Gilbert, Jimmie; and Gilbert Linda. Elements of Modern Algebra. 6th edition. pp 27-31. Thomson, Brooks/Cole. 2005. Last Accessed 9/5/2018. Buy the book

Cite this article as:

McAdams, David E. Operation. 9/5/2018. All Math Words Encyclopedia. Life is a Story Problem LLC. http://www.allmathwords.org/en/o/operation.html.

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Revision History

9/5/2018: Removed broken links, updated license, implemented new markup. (McAdams, David E.)
12/21/2009: Added "References". (McAdams, David E.)
12/30/2008: Added figure 1. (McAdams, David E.)
8/29/2008: Added 'More Information'. (McAdams, David E.)
8/8/2007: Initial version. (McAdams, David E.)

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