Cyganek section 3.19

lvalue vs. rvalue

We will often see lvalue and rvalue used:

  • lvalue: an object that can be assigned to – i.e., it can be put on the lefthand side of the = operator.

  • rvalue: an object that can appear on the righthand side of the = operator – it acts as a value.

see, e.g., Assignment: l-values and r-values.


What happens when we have an expression like:

a + b * c;

The language defines the order that operators are considered, called operator precedence.

This table: C++ Operator Precedence lists the order in which operators are evaluated.

In the example above, multiplication has higher precedence, so it is evaluated first, and then the addition is done.

try it…

Play around with some expressions to explore the precedence of operators.

Prefix and postfix operators

We haven’t yet discussed the difference between ++a and a++. These are the prefix and postfix increment operators. Let’s do that now.

The prefix operator is:

int a{0}, b{0};
b = ++a;

The prefix increment operator first increments the value of the object and then returns a reference to the result. So in the above example, the result would be b = 1.

Now consider the postfix operator:

int c{0}, d{0};
d = c++;

Here, a copy of c is made, then c is incremented, and finally the copy is returned. So in the above example, the result would be d = 0.


The behavior of the prefix and postfix operator is essentially the same when it is on its own line. Also in the for construction:

for (int i = 0; i < 10; ++i) {

it doesn’t matter much which version you use – although you will commonly see the prefix version used since it does not make a copy, and therefore can be faster.


When an expression has two operators at the same precedence, operator associativity rules come into play. Most operators in C++ are left associative – that is, they are grouped from the left, but some are right associative (like the unary operators and assignment) meaning that they are grouped from the right.

Consider assignment:

a = b = c

Since = has right associativity, we interpret this as a = (b = c), which can further be thought of as b = c; a = c.


In C++, assignment evaluates to the left value.

In the expression:

a + b - c

Both + and - have the same precedence, and these are left-associative, so first a + b is evaluated and then c is subtracted from that result.