Given an expression, such as int x = y + 5, we'd call int x the left-hand side (or LHS), and y + 5 the right-hand side (or RHS). The whole expression is called, of course, an expression (or equation), but is there a generic term for a "side" of an expression?

LHS and RHS don't quite cut it when it comes to an expression such as int x = y = 5 (gloss over the fact here that such assignments are generally bad practice!).

I'm toying with the term component to describe any "side", but was interested to see if there was a formal standard term already in use. Wikipedia only has "Sides of an equation", any better suggestions?

  • in which language would "int x = y = 5" work? I would assume the use of parentheses would clarify evaluation order and hence, LHS and RHS. itu.dk/courses/BPRD/E2009/fundamental-1967.pdf is about as authorative as it comes...
    – lwm
    Aug 30, 2013 at 8:57
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    It's a general statement, none of this is in a particular language - I've seen such statements in a few languages, C# and Java come to mind I think but it's been a while since I touched either, so might not have been those - have definitely seen it used (and warned against) before though. Although it's not something I ever use myself. I think (don't quote me - like I say, it's not something I ever personally use) the flow is the same as y = 5; int x = y;.
    – Kai
    Aug 30, 2013 at 9:03
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    The point was the terms LHS and RHS doesn't work so well when there are 3 "sides" to an expression, and it seems there ought to be be a none-side-specific term for each "chunk" of an equation. As in, the LHS and RHS are collectively an ... [insert answer here]. 'chunk' or 'component' or 'part' are the best terms I have so far.
    – Kai
    Aug 30, 2013 at 9:05
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    @Kai (et al) the term term suggests itself. Aug 30, 2013 at 9:07
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    Are you thinking of "lvalue" and "rvalue" ? stackoverflow.com/questions/3601602/…
    – rwong
    Aug 30, 2013 at 10:49

2 Answers 2


I think you're looking for the word operand. A unary operator has one operand. A binary operator has two operands; if the operator is infix, i.e. if the expression is written horizontally with the operator between the two operands, then the operands are known as the left-hand side and right-hand side (very commonly abbreviated LHS and RHS). There are other names when the operator is written differently, for example numerator and denominator for the fraction operator arranged vertically and marked by a horizontal bar. A ternary operator has three operands (which don't have standard names; if they're written from left to right, you might call them left, middle and right operand), and so on.

Assuming C, x ? y : z has three operands for the ?: operator which are x, y and z. The syntactic element int x = y = 5 is not parsed as an expression with a single operator; x, y and z are subexpressions but so is y = 5. y and 5 are operands of the operator =. There is no generic term to designate x and y = 5 here: in general parsing terminology, they are operands of the declaration operator, but in C terminology, the word operand is reserved for things that C calls operators.

If you want to treat int _ = _ = _ as a single unit (which isn't how C syntax works), you can refer to the pieces as the left, middle and right subterms.

The word subterm can be used more or less interchangeably with subexpression in general parsing literature, but specific languages often make a difference between the two (often an expression is a particular kind of term, but occasionally it's the opposite). You can refer to subterms which are one step down from a node in the parse tree as immediate subterms.

A term that cannot be decomposed any further is an atom.


IIRC from my high school days (some SIXTY years ago!), the left-hand side was called the comparator, and the right-hand side was called the "comparand".

  • Wouldn't this terminology apply only when comparison is being expressed (and not other kinds of operation)?
    – Steve
    May 23, 2023 at 8:45

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