I'm trying to calculate the sum of 2 bits using basic binary arithmetic and currently, I'm doing this:

function Add(bool a, bool b, bool carry)
         Result: a ^ b ^ carry,
         Carry: a & b | a & carry | b & carry

Is there a way to shorten the expression that calculates the Carry or I have to manually check all possible combinations?

5 Answers 5


There is only a minor simplification:

a & b | (a | b) & carry

This is equivalent to

a & carry | (a | carry) & b


carry & b | (carry | b) & a
  • That's neat. So, there is no built-in operator (in C language, for that matter) that given 3 operands will yield true when at least 2 of the operands are true? Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 18:33
  • @DumbButterly: No, in C, C++ and Java there is only one operator with three operands (a ? b : c) and it does coonditional assignment. Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 19:52
  • 3
    @DumbButterly C is pretty much a shorthand for assembly and doesn't have anything that you don't find on CPUs. If it's something you need frequently, write it as a function that can be inlined and any decent compiler will make sure it runs quickly.
    – Blrfl
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 20:00
  • @Blrfl: No, it's an HLL on top of assembler, as anyone who's actually programmed in assembler would readily tell you (I being one). Some of the many things C has that assembler doesn't: loops, functions, structures, types that aren't native-length float or int, type checking, arrays... and so on. And that's just C from circa 2000, which is the last time I used it day in a and day out. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 20:02
  • 2
    @LawrenceDol: You don't have to read far into the introduction of The C Programming Language (1978 edition) to know that (a) Kernighan and Ritchie disagree with your characterization of C as a high-level language and (b) it was designed to reflect the abilities of the processors available at the time. I'm not implying that C is a 1:1 mapping for assembly does, but rather a shorthand for a lot of the things that were being done by hand in assembly. If you want to start swinging years of experience around, I've written assembly for about a dozen CPUs since 1980 and learned C in 1987.
    – Blrfl
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 22:33

If you're counting by operations, and you're willing to count ?: as one operation, then you can improve on this answer with:

carry ? (a|b) : (a&b)

That is five operands and three operations. Or maybe 3.5 operations. But it's still better than the other answer with 4 operations.

If you're focused on the idea that the function is 'any two or more of the three', this I like this form because it says "If one is high, either of the other two, otherwise both of the other two."

  • (You can swap the operands any way you want because the function is symmetric, BTW -- this way takes the fewest characters) Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 16:14

If I'm not mistaken, you can add bools in C. You could add the three bools together and then check if the value is greater than 1. I doubt this would be a good idea from a performance perspective. It might be worth considering if you had more than three boolean values and wanted to check if a certain number are set.

I realize this makes no sense for what you want to do specifically but it is a solution for the more general problem of given X bools check if Y (or at least Y) are set.


Pseudo code for a generic full adder (what you are describing). Most languages will support this pseudo code.

Using a temporary field means that this will take five operations, two EXCLUSIVE OR, two AND, and one OR.

Inputs: a, b, Cin
Outputs: sum, Cout

temp = a XOR b
sum = temp XOR Cin
Cout = (a AND B) OR (temp AND Cin)

You can cast the booleans to integers and directly compute the result.

int sum= (int)a + (int)b + (int)carry;
Result: (bool)(sum & 1);
Carry:  (bool)(sum >> 1);

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