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[vair-ee-uh-buh l] /ˈvɛər i ə bəl/
apt or liable to vary or change; changeable:
variable weather; variable moods.
capable of being varied or changed; alterable:
a variable time limit for completion of a book.
inconstant; fickle:
a variable lover.
having much variation or diversity.
Biology. deviating from the usual type, as a species or a specific character.
Astronomy. (of a star) changing in brightness.
Meteorology. (of wind) tending to change in direction.
Mathematics. having the nature or characteristics of a variable.
something that may or does vary or change; a variable feature or factor.
Mathematics, Computers.
  1. a quantity or function that may assume any given value or set of values.
  2. a symbol that represents this.
Logic. (in the functional calculus) a symbol for an unspecified member of a class of things or statements.
Astronomy. variable star.
  1. a shifting wind, especially as distinguished from a trade wind.
  2. variables, doldrums (def 2a).
Origin of variable
late Middle English
1350-1400; late Middle English < Latin variābilis, equivalent to vari(us) various + -ābilis -able
Related forms
variability, variableness, noun
variably, adverb
hypervariability, noun
hypervariable, adjective
hypervariably, adverb
nonvariability, noun
nonvariable, adjective
nonvariableness, noun
nonvariably, adverb
unvariable, adjective
unvariableness, noun
unvariably, adverb
Can be confused
boundary, limit, parameter, variable (see synonym study at boundary; see usage note at parameter)
variable, variant.
3. vacillating, wavering, fluctuating, unsteady, mercurial.
1, 3. constant. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for variable
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • But all variable stars need not necessarily be due to the light being intercepted by a dark body.

  • Marriage has always been an elastic and variable usage, as it now is.

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
  • Flesh moderately tender and vinous, sweet, variable in flavor and quality ranging from fair to very good.

    The Grapes of New York U. P. Hedrick
  • In the past, we used to focus on social forms of variable organization.

  • Some are variable within limits and some, like the cross section, are fixed.

    The Atomic Fingerprint Bernard Keisch
British Dictionary definitions for variable


liable to or capable of change: variable weather
(of behaviour, opinions, emotions, etc) lacking constancy; fickle
(maths) having a range of possible values
(of a species, characteristic, etc) liable to deviate from the established type
(of a wind) varying its direction and intensity
(of an electrical component or device) designed so that a characteristic property, such as resistance, can be varied: variable capacitor
something that is subject to variation
  1. an expression that can be assigned any of a set of values
  2. a symbol, esp x, y, or z, representing an unspecified member of a class of objects, numbers, etc See also dependent variable, independent variable
(logic) a symbol, esp x, y, z, representing any member of a class of entities
(computing) a named unit of storage that can be changed to any of a set of specified values during execution of a program
(astronomy) See variable star
a variable wind
(pl) a region where variable winds occur
Derived Forms
variability, variableness, noun
variably, adverb
Word Origin
C14: from Latin variābilis changeable, from variāre to diversify
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for variable

late 14c., of persons, from Old French variable, from Latin variabilis "changeable," from variare "to change" (see vary). Of weather, seasons, etc., attested from late 15c.; of stars, from 1788.


"quantity that can vary in value," 1816, from variable (adj.). Related: Variably; variability.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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variable in Medicine

variable var·i·a·ble (vâr'ē-ə-bəl, vār'-)

  1. Likely to change or vary; subject to variation; changeable.

  2. Tending to deviate, as from a normal or recognized type; aberrant.

  3. Having no fixed quantitative value.

  1. Something that varies or that is prone to variation.

  2. A quantity that is capable of assuming any of a set of values.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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variable in Science
  1. A mathematical quantity capable of assuming any of a set of values, such as x in the expression 3x + 2.

  2. A factor or condition that is subject to change, especially one that is allowed to change in a scientific experiment to test a hypothesis. See more at control.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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variable in Technology

(Sometimes "var" /veir/ or /var/) A named memory location in which a program can store intermediate results and from which it can read it them. Each programming language has different rules about how variables can be named, typed, and used. Typically, a value is "assigned" to a variable in an assignment statement. The value is obtained by evaluating an expression and then stored in the variable. For example, the assignment
x = y + 1
means "add one to y and store the result in x". This may look like a mathematical equation but the mathematical equality is only true in the program until the value of x or y changes. Furthermore, statements like
x = x + 1
are common. This means "add one to x", which only makes sense as a state changing operation, not as a mathematical equality.
The simplest form of variable corresponds to a single-word of memory or a CPU register and an assignment to a load or store machine code operation.
A variable is usually defined to have a type, which never changes, and which defines the set of values the variable can hold. A type may specify a single ("atomic") value or a collection ("aggregate") of values of the same or different types. A common aggregate type is the array - a set of values, one of which can be selected by supplying a numerical index.
Languages may be untyped, weakly typed, strongly typed, or some combination. Object-oriented programming languages extend this to object types or classes.
A variable's scope is the region of the program source within which it represents a certain thing. Scoping rules are also highly language dependent but most serious languages support both local variables and global variables. Subroutine and function formal arguments are special variables which are set automatically by the language runtime on entry to the subroutine.
In a functional programming language, a variable's value never changes and change of state is handled as recursion over lists of values.

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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