Ternary operator

The ternary operator in C++ is a concise way to perform conditional operations. It’s a shorthand for an if-else statement and is also known as the conditional operator. The ternary operator consists of three parts: a condition, a result for true, and a result for false.


The syntax of the ternary operator is as follows:

condition ? result_if_true : result_if_false;


  1. Condition: This is a boolean expression that is evaluated. If the condition is true, the result of the ternary operator is result_if_true. If the condition is false, the result is result_if_false.
  2. Result_if_true: This is the value or expression that is returned if the condition evaluates to true.
  3. Result_if_false: This is the value or expression that is returned if the condition evaluates to false.


Here’s a basic example to illustrate the use of the ternary operator:

#include <iostream>

int main() {
    int a = 10;
    int b = 20;

    // Using ternary operator to find the larger of two numbers
    int max = (a > b) ? a : b;

    std::cout << "The larger number is " << max << std::endl;

    return 0;

In this example, (a > b) ? a : b checks if a is greater than b. If true, it returns a; otherwise, it returns b.


  1. Condition Evaluation: The expression a > b is evaluated. If a is greater than b, the expression a is returned; otherwise, the expression b is returned.
  2. Assignment: The result of the ternary operation is assigned to the variable max.
  3. Output: The value of max is printed, which is the larger of the two numbers a and b.

Nesting Ternary Operators

Ternary operators can be nested to handle multiple conditions. However, nested ternary operators can quickly become difficult to read and should be used sparingly.

#include <iostream>

int main() {
    int x = 10;
    int y = 20;
    int z = 30;

    // Find the largest of three numbers using nested ternary operators
    int largest = (x > y) ? ((x > z) ? x : z) : ((y > z) ? y : z);

    std::cout << "The largest number is " << largest << std::endl;

    return 0;

Common Use Cases

  • Simple Assignments: Assign a value to a variable based on a condition.
  • Return Statements: Return one of two values based on a condition.
  • Inline Conditions: Use within expressions to keep code concise.

Limitations and Considerations

  • Readability: While the ternary operator can make code shorter, it can also make it harder to read, especially when nested or used with complex expressions. Clarity should not be sacrificed for brevity.
  • Single Expressions: The ternary operator is intended for simple conditional assignments and evaluations. For more complex logic that involves multiple statements, use if-else constructs.
  • Types: Ensure that the expressions result_if_true and result_if_false are of compatible types. If not, the result type will be determined according to the usual type promotion rules in C++.


The ternary operator is a powerful tool for making concise conditional assignments and evaluations in C++. When used appropriately, it can make your code more readable and expressive. However, it is essential to balance brevity with clarity, especially in complex expressions.