AskDefine | Define constant

Dictionary Definition

constant adj
1 persistent in occurrence and unvarying in nature; "maintained a constant temperature"; "a constant beat"; "principles of unvarying validity"; "a steady breeze" [syn: changeless, invariant, steady, unvarying]
2 continually recurring or continuing without interruption; "constant repetition of the exercise"; "constant chatter of monkeys"
3 steadfast in purpose or devotion or affection; "a man constant in adherence to his ideals"; "a constant lover"; "constant as the northern star" [ant: inconstant]
4 uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing; "the ceaseless thunder of surf"; "in constant pain"; "night and day we live with the incessant noise of the city"; "the never-ending search for happiness"; "the perpetual struggle to maintain standards in a democracy"; "man's unceasing warfare with drought and isolation"; "unremitting demands of hunger" [syn: ceaseless, incessant, never-ending, perpetual, unceasing, unremitting]


1 a quantity that does not vary [syn: constant quantity]
2 a number representing a quantity assumed to have a fixed value in a specified mathematical context; "the velocity of light is a constant"

User Contributed Dictionary



  • (UK) /ˈkɒnstənt/, /"kQnst@nt/
  • (US) /ˈkɑnstənt/, /"kAnst@nt/


From constantem.


  1. Unchanged through time or space; permanent.
  2. Consistently recurring over time; persistent
  3. Steady in purpose, action, feeling, etc.


unchanged through time
consistently recurring over time
  • Finnish: jatkuva, tasainen, vakio-
  • French: constant , constante
  • German: regelmäßig, ständig, stetig
  • Hungarian: folytonos
  • Italian: costante
  • Swedish: konstant
  • Finnish: vakaa, muuttumaton
  • French: constant , constante
  • German: konstant, fest
  • Hungarian: állhatatos, kitartó
  • Italian: costante
  • Swedish: konstant


  1. That which is permanent or invariable.
  2. A quantity that remains at a fixed value throughout a given discussion.
  3. Any property of an experiment, determined numerically, that does not change under given circumstances.
  4. An identifier that is bound to an invariant value.


that which is permanent or invariable
  • Finnish: vakio
  • German: Konstante, Fixwert banking
  • Hungarian: állandó, konstans
  • Italian: costante
  • Swedish: konstant
algebra: quantity that remains fixed
  • Finnish: vakio
  • German: Konstante
  • Hungarian: állandó, konstans
  • Italian: costante
  • Swedish: konstant
science: property that does not change
  • Finnish: vakio
  • German: Konstante
  • Hungarian: állandó, konstans
  • Italian: costante
  • Swedish: konstant
identifier that is bound to an invariant value
  • Croatian: konstanta
  • Czech: konstanta
  • Finnish: vakio
  • German: Konstante
  • Hungarian: állandó, konstans
  • Italian: costante
  • Swedish: konstant

Related terms

See also



  • lang=fr|/kɔ̃s.tɑ̃/
  • SAMPA: /kO~s.tA~/



Related terms

Extensive Definition

Constants are real numbers or numerical values which are significantly interesting in some way. The term "constant" is used both for mathematical constants and for physical constants, but with quite different meanings.
One always talks about definable, and almost always also computable, mathematical constants — Chaitin's constant being a notable exception. However for some computable mathematical constants only very rough numerical estimates are known.
When dealing with physical dimensionful constants, a set of units must be chosen. Sometimes, one unit is defined in terms of other units. For example, the metre is defined as 1/(299\ 792\ 458) of a light-second. This definition implies that, in metric units, the speed of light in vacuum is exactly 299\ 792\ 458 metres per second. No increase in the precision of the measurement of the speed of light could alter this numerical value expressed in metres per second.

Mathematical constants

Ubiquitous in many different fields of science, such recurring constants include \pi, e and the Feigenbaum constants which are linked to the mathematical models used to describe physical phenomena, Euclidean geometry, analysis and logistic maps respectively. However, mathematical constants such as Apéry's constant and the Golden ratio occur unexpectedly outside of mathematics.

Archimedes' constant π

Pi, though having a natural definition in Euclidean geometry (the circumference of a circle of diameter 1), may be found in many different places in mathematics. Key examples include the Gaussian integral in complex analysis, nth roots of unity in number theory and Cauchy distributions in probability. However, its universality is not limited to mathematics. Indeed, various formulas in physics, such as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and constants such as the cosmological constant bear the constant pi. The presence of pi in physical principles, laws and formulas can have very simple explanations. For example, Coulomb's law, describing the inverse square proportionality of the magnitude of the electrostatic force between two electric charges and their distance, states that, in SI units, F = \frac\frac.

The exponential growth – or Napier's – constant e

The exponential growth constant appears in many parts of applied mathematics. For example, as the Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli discovered, e\, arises in compound interest. Indeed, an account that starts at $1, and yields 1+R\, dollars at simple interest, will yield e^R\, dollars with continuous compounding. e\, also has applications to probability theory, where it arises in a way not obviously related to exponential growth. Suppose that a gambler plays a slot machine with a one in n probability and plays it n times. Then, for large n (such as a million) the probability that the gambler will win nothing at all is (approximately) 1/e\,. Another application of e\,, also discovered in part by Jacob Bernoulli along with French mathematician Pierre Raymond de Montmort is in the problem of derangements, also known as the hat check problem. Here n guests are invited to a party, and at the door each guest checks his hat with the butler who then places them into labelled boxes. But the butler does not know the name of the guests, and so must put them into boxes selected at random. The problem of de Montmort is: what is the probability that none of the hats gets put into the right box. The answer is p_n = 1-\frac+\frac-\frac+\cdots+(-1)^n\frac and as n\, tends to infinity, p_n\, approaches 1/e\,.

The Feigenbaum constants α and δ

Iterations of continuous maps serve as the simplest examples of models for dynamical systems. Named after mathematical physicist Mitchell Feigenbaum, the two Feigenbaum constants appear in such iterative processes: they are mathematical invariants of logistic maps with quadratic maximum points and their bifurcation diagrams.
The logistic map is a polynomial mapping, often cited as an archetypal example of how chaotic behaviour can arise from very simple non-linear dynamical equations. The map was popularized in a seminal 1976 paper by the English biologist Robert May, in part as a discrete-time demographic model analogous to the logistic equation first created by Pierre François Verhulst. The difference equation is intended to capture the two effects or reproduction and starvation.

Apéry's constant ζ(3)

Despite being a special value of the Riemann zeta function, Apéry's constant arises naturally in a number of physical problems, including in the second- and third-order terms of the electron's gyromagnetic ratio, computed using quantum electrodynamics. Also, Pascal Wallisch noted that \sqrt\approxeq\frac, where m_n,m_e,\varphi are the neutron mass, the electron mass and the Golden ratio respectively.

The golden ratio φ

F\left(n\right)=\frac An explicit formula for the nth Fibonacci number involving the golden ratio.
The number \varphi turns up frequently in geometry, particularly in figures with pentagonal symmetry. Indeed, the length of a regular pentagon's diagonal is \varphi times its side. The vertices of a regular icosahedron are those of three mutually orthogonal golden rectangles. Also, it appears in the Fibonacci sequence, related to growth by recursion.
Adolf Zeising, whose main interests were mathematics and philosophy, found the golden ratio expressed in the arrangement of branches along the stems of plants and of veins in leaves. He extended his research to the skeletons of animals and the branchings of their veins and nerves, to the proportions of chemical compounds and the geometry of crystals, even to the use of proportion in artistic endeavours. In these phenomena he saw the golden ratio operating as a universal law. Zeising wrote in 1854:
[The Golden Ratio is a universal law] in which is contained the ground-principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art, and which permeates, as a paramount spiritual ideal, all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical; which finds its fullest realization, however, in the human form.

The Euler-Mascheroni constant γ

The Euler–Mascheroni constant is a recurring constant in number theory. The French mathematician Charles Jean de la Vallée-Poussin proved in 1898 that when taking any positive integer n and dividing it by each positive integer m less than n, the average fraction by which the quotient n/m falls short of the next integer tends to \gamma as n tends to infinity. Surprisingly, this average doesn't tend to one half. The Euler-Mascheroni constant also appears in Merten's third theorem and has relations to the gamma function, the zeta function and many different integrals and series. The definition of the Euler-Mascheroni constant exhibits a close link between the discrete and the continuous (see curves on the right).

Conway's constant λ

\begin 1 \\ 11 \\ 21 \\ 1211 \\ 111221 \\ 312211 \\ \vdots \end Conway's look-and-say sequence
Conway's constant is the invariant growth rate of all derived strings similar to the look-and-say sequence (except two trivial ones). It is given by the unique positive real root of a polynomial of degree 71 with integer coefficients.

Khinchin's constant K

If a real number r\, is written using simple continued fraction
then, as Russian mathematician Aleksandr Khinchin proved in 1934, the limit as n\, tends to infinity of the geometric mean (a_1a_2\cdots a_n)^ exists, and, except for a set of measure 0, this limit is a constant, Khinchin's constant.

Physical constants

In physics, universal constants appear in the basic theoretical equations upon which the entire science rests or are the properties of the fundamental particles of physics of which all matter is constituted (the electron charge e, the electron mass m_e and the fine-structure constant \alpha).

The speed of light c and Planck's constant h

The speed of light and the Planck constant are examples of quantities that occur naturally in the mathematical formulation of certain fundamental physical theories, the former in James Clerk Maxwell's theory of electric and magnetic fields and Albert Einstein's theories of relativity, and the latter in quantum theory. For example, in special relativity, mass and energy are equivalent: E = mc2 where c^2\, is the constant of proportionality. In quantum mechanics, the energy and frequency of a photon are related by E=h\nu\,.
The speed of light is also used to express other fundamental constants such as the electric constant \epsilon_0=(4\pi 10^ c^2)^\,, Coulomb's constant k=10^ c^2\, and the characteristic impedance of vacuum Z_0=4\pi10^c\,.

The electron charge e and the electron mass m_e

The electron charge and the electron mass are examples of constants that characterize the basic, or elementary, particles that constitute matter, such as the electron, alpha particle, proton, neutron, muon, and pion. Many constants can be expressed using the fundamental constants h,\,c,\,e. For example. it is a property of a supercurrent (superconducting electrical current) that the magnetic flux passing through any area bounded by such a current is quantized. The magnetic flux quantum \Phi_0=hc/(2e)\, is a physical constant, as it is independent of the underlying material as long as it is a superconductor. Also, the fundamental fine-structure constant \alpha=\mu_0ce^2/(2h)\, where the permeability of free space \mu_0 is just a numerical constant equal to .

Mathematical curiosities, specific physical facts and unspecified constants

Simple representatives of sets of numbers

c=\sum_^\infty 10^=0.\underbrace_000\dots\, Liouville's constant is a simple example of a transcendental number.
Some constants, such as the square root of 2, Liouville's constant and [[Champernowne constant|Champernowne constant C_ = \color0.\color1\color2\color3\color4\color5\color6\color7\color8\color9\color10\color11\color12\color13\color14\color15\color16\dots]] are not important mathematical invariants but retain interest being simple representatives of special sets of numbers, the irrational numbers, the transcendental numbers and the normal numbers (in base 10) respectively. The discovery of the irrational numbers is usually attributed to the Pythagorean Hippasus of Metapontum who proved, most likely geometrically, the irrationality of \sqrt. As for Liouville's constant, named after French mathematician Joseph Liouville, it was the first transcendental number ever constructed.

Chaitin's constant Ω

In the computer science subfield of algorithmic information theory, Chaitin's constant is the real number representing the probability that a randomly-chosen Turing machine will halt, formed from a construction due to Argentine-American mathematician and computer scientist Gregory Chaitin. Amusingly, Chaitin's constant, though not being computable, has been proven transcendental and normal.
Some constants differ so much from the usual kind that a new notation has been invented to represent them reasonably. Graham's number illustrates this as Knuth's up-arrow notation is used.
Commonly, constants in the physical sciences are represented using the scientific notation, with, when appropriate, the inaccuracy - or measurement error - attached. When writing the Planck constant h=6.626\ 068\ 96(33) \times 10^\ \mbox\cdot\mbox it is meant that h=(6.626\ 068\ 96 \plusmn 0.000\ 000\ 003\ 3)\times 10^\ \mbox\cdot\mbox\,. Only the significant figures are shown and a greater precision would be superfluous, extra figures coming from experimental inaccuracies. When writing Isaac Newton's gravitational constant G = \left(6.67428 \plusmn 0.00067 \right) \times 10^ \ \mbox^3 \ \mbox^ \ \mbox^ \, only 6 significant figures are given.
For mathematical constants, it may be of interest to represent them using continued fractions to perform various studies, including statistical analysis. Many mathematical constants have an analytic form, that is they can constructed using well-known operations that lend themselves readily to calculation. However, Grossman's constant has no known analytic form.

Symbolizing and naming of constants

Symbolizing constants with letters is a frequent means of making the notation more concise. A standard convention, instigated by Leonhard Euler in the 18th century, is to use lower case letters from the beginning of the Latin alphabet a,b,c,\dots\, or the Greek alphabet \alpha,\beta,\,\gamma,\dots\, when dealing with constants in general.
However, for more important constants, the symbols may be more complex and have an extra letter, an asterisk, a number, a lemniscate or use different alphabets such as Hebrew, Cyrillic or Gothic,...).

Lumping constants

A common practice in physics is to lump constants to simplify the equations and algebraic manipulations. For example, Coulomb's constant \kappa =(4\pi\epsilon_0)^\, is just \epsilon_0\,, \pi\, and 4\, lumped together. Also, combining old constants does not necessarily make the new one less fundamental. For example, the -notably- dimensionless fine-structure constant \alpha=\mu_0ce^2/(2h)\, is a fundamental constant of quantum electrodynamics and in the quantum theory of the interaction among electrons, muons and photons.

A notation simplifier : the Avogadro constant N_a

The Avogadro constant is the number of entities in one mole, commonly used in chemistry, where the entities are often atoms or molecules. Its unit is inverse mole. However, the mole being a counting unit, we can consider the Avogadro constant dimensionless, and, contrary to the speed of light, the Avogadro constant doesn't convert units, but acts as a scaling factor for dealing practically with large numbers.

Mystery and aesthetics behind constants

e^+1=0\, Euler's identity relating five of the most important mathematical constants.
For some authors, constants, either mathematical or physical may be mysterious, beautiful or fascinating. For example, English mathematician Glaisher (1915) writes
During the 1920s until his death, British astrophysicist Eddington increasingly concentrated on what he called "fundamental theory" which was intended to be a unification of quantum theory, relativity and gravitation. At first he progressed along "traditional" lines, but turned increasingly to an almost numerological analysis of the dimensionless ratios of fundamental constants. In a similar fashion, British theoretical physicist Paul Dirac studied ratios of fundamental physical constant to build his large numbers hypothesis.

See also

Further reading

constant in Min Nan: Tiāⁿ-sò͘
constant in Bulgarian: Константа
constant in Danish: Konstant
constant in German: Konstante
constant in Estonian: Konstant
constant in Spanish: Constante
constant in Esperanto: Konstanto
constant in French: Constante
constant in Scottish Gaelic: Cunbhal
constant in Korean: 상수
constant in Indonesian: Konstanta
constant in Italian: Costante
constant in Lithuanian: Konstanta
constant in Dutch: Constant (eigenschap)
constant in Japanese: 定数
constant in Norwegian: Konstant
constant in Portuguese: Constante
constant in Russian: Константа
constant in Simple English: Constant
constant in Serbian: Константа
constant in Finnish: Vakio
constant in Swedish: Konstant
constant in Thai: ค่าคงตัว
constant in Ukrainian: Константа
constant in Chinese: 常数

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abiding, accordant, active, age-long, aged, ageless, alike, ancient, antique, ardent, articulated, assiduous, atom, atomic mass, atomic number, atomic weight, automatic, balanced, beaten, catenated, ceaseless, changeless, chattering, chronic, clinging, close, coeternal, colorfast, committed, compliant, concatenated, confirmed, conforming, connected, conscientious, consistent, consonant, continual, continued, continuing, continuous, correspondent, cyclical, dateless, dedicated, deep-dyed, delicate, dependable, determined, devoted, devout, diligent, direct, diuturnal, dogged, double-dyed, durable, duteous, dutiful, dyed-in-the-wool, endless, enduring, equable, equal, eternal, eterne, even, ever-being, ever-durable, ever-during, evergreen, everlasting, everliving, exact, express, fadeless, faithful, fast, featureless, fine, firm, fixed, flat, flinty, frequent, frozen, gapless, habitual, hackneyed, hardy, homogeneous, immediate, immemorial, immobile, immovable, immutable, inalterable, incessant, incommutable, inconvertible, indefatigable, indefeasible, indelible, indestructible, indomitable, industrious, inerrable, inerrant, inert, infallible, infinite, inflexible, ingrain, ingrained, insistent, insusceptible of change, intact, interminable, intransient, intransmutable, invariable, inveterate, invincible, inviolate, irretrievable, irreversible, irrevocable, joined, jointless, lasting, level, liege, linked, long-lasting, long-lived, long-standing, long-term, longeval, longevous, loyal, machine gun, macrobiotic, marble-constant, mathematical, measured, mechanical, methodic, methodical, meticulous, micrometrically precise, microscopic, mindful, monolithic, monotonous, never-ceasing, never-ending, never-tiring, nice, noble, nonreturnable, nonreversible, nonstop, nonterminating, nonterminous, observant, obstinate, of a piece, of long duration, of long standing, olamic, ordered, orderly, oscillating, patient, patient as Job, perdurable, perduring, perennial, periodic, permanent, perpetual, perseverant, persevering, persistent, persisting, pertinacious, pinpoint, plodding, plugging, practicing, precise, preoccupied, pulsating, punctilious, punctual, quantum, quiescent, rapid, rapt, recurrent, recurring, refined, regardful, regular, regular as clockwork, relentless, religious, religiously exact, remaining, repeated, repetitive, resolute, reverseless, rigid, rigorous, robotlike, round-the-clock, routine, running, scientific, scientifically exact, scrupulous, seamless, sedulous, sempervirent, sempiternal, serried, set, settled, severe, single-minded, sleepless, slogging, smooth, solid, sot, square, stabile, stable, staccato, static, stationary, staunch, staying, steadfast, steady, steely, stereotyped, straight, strict, stubborn, stuttering, subtle, sustained, systematic, tenacious, tested, timeless, tireless, torpid, tough, tried, tried and true, trite, true, true-blue, trusty, twenty-four-hour, unabating, unalterable, unalterative, unaltered, unbending, unbroken, unceasing, unchangeable, unchanged, unchanging, unchecked, unconquerable, undaunted, undeflectable, undestroyed, undeviating, undifferentiated, undiscouraged, undiversified, undrooping, unending, unerring, unfading, unfailing, unfaltering, unflagging, unflappable, unflinching, uniform, unintermitted, unintermittent, unintermitting, uninterrupted, unmodifiable, unmovable, unnodding, unrelaxing, unrelenting, unrelieved, unremitting, unrestorable, unreturnable, unruffled, unshakable, unshakeable, unshaken, unshifting, unsleeping, unstopped, unsusceptible, unswerving, untiring, unvariable, unvaried, unvarying, unwavering, unwearied, unwearying, unwinking, unyielding, utterly attentive, valence, vibrating, vital, weariless, well-trodden, well-worn, without end
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