C11 standard says Lvalues, arrays, and function designators

A function designator is an expression that has function type. Except when it is the operand of the sizeof operator, 65) or the unary & operator, a function designator with type ‘‘function returning type’’ is converted to an expression that has type ‘‘pointer to function returning type’’.

What is a "function returning type"? Is it the same as a function type?


  • 1
    From the discussion it looks like it just means a function pointer. Hense, the italicized type.
    – lakeweb
    Oct 19, 2020 at 20:44

2 Answers 2


The wording of a "function returning type" just means a function defined as returning some type T, such as T f() { .... }.

The quoted clause just tells you that using the designator of the function, for example its name f, in an expression, would have the type "pointer to a function returning T". To be read with the following associative priorities: "pointer to " "a function returning T".

The wording avoids to say the name of the function, since the rule is anything that designates a function, including a dereferenced function pointer.

Example, with T being void:

void f(){ printf("Oops\n");}

int main(void) {
    void (*pf1)(), (*pf2)(); 
    void (*a[3])();  

    pf2 = &f;   // &f is the address of f, so a pointer to a function returning void
    pf1 = f;    // f is a function designator,  it's converted to a function pointer
    a[0]=f;     // same, but for the fun it's stored in an array of function pointers
    printf ("%lx %lx %lx %lx %lx\n", f, &f,  pf1, pf2, a[0]);  // all the same
    pf2();      // will call the function as well.  pf2 is already a function pointer
    (*pf1)();     // here we see that *pf1 is also a function designator
    pf2 = *pf1;   // *pf1 is converted to a function pointer, so it's pf1   
    printf ("%lx %lx\n", pf1, pf2);    // all the same 

    (***************pf1)(); // Sorry: I couldn't resist ;-)

    return 0;

There are functions returning void, functions returning int, functions returning double, and so on. To speak about all those functions, you call them “functions returning type”.

  • 1
    Thanks, but I don't think the phrase means only the return type of a function
    – Tim
    Oct 19, 2020 at 20:20
  • Exactly. It's not about the type of a function's return value, it's about the type of the function.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 19, 2020 at 22:04
  • 1
    @Tim - in the standard, the word "type" is typographically distinguished, to indicate that it's meant as a placeholder, e.g., it's written like this: "array of type" (meaning array of T) , and "function returning type" (meaning function with the return type T). It's not a phrase, it's a phrase template, if you will; perhaps another way to express it would be: "converted to an expression that has type: pointer to function returning <type>". Oct 20, 2020 at 7:42

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