The Prooftoys Language

The universe … cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics. – Galileo Galilei

Statements and expressions

The language has only expressions, which are often referred to as terms. A statement in the language is just an expression whose value is boolean, so either true or false. Given an expression and the definitions of the names used in it, it is easy to tell if the expression has a boolean value and so can be interpreted as a statement.

Expression syntax

The language syntax is pretty conventional. It has infix operators, each having a certain precedence, and function calls. Recall that predicates and relations are also functions. There are only three kinds of expressions: atomic expressions, which are either a variable or a constant; function calls, which are either in function call form or infix form; and functional expressions.

Constants and variables

The logic has two kinds of names: identifiers and operator names. An identifier is an alphabetic character possibly followed by additional letters, digits, and underscores ("_").

All variable names are identifiers. A name that is a single letter, optionally followed by an underscore and one or more digits, is a variable name. If there are any digits, they will display as a subscript on the identifier. The names “T”, “F”, “R”, and “e” are specially reserved for constants and cannot be used as variable names.

Every variable has a type, such as boolean or individual. Prooftoys does not currently provide a way to declare the type of a variable or constant, but infers them. Types of some constants such as T, F, and numeric literals, are predefined.

An operator name is a sequence of printing (currently ASCII) characters that are not letters or digits, brackets, braces, parentheses, colon (":") or (".").

Numeric literals are a sequence of digits optionally preceded by “-”. The “-” is an operator otherwise. Numeric literals only exist for integers.

Operators and infix

Constants named as operators are treated as infix operators, and infix expressions are parsed according to their precedence.

To suppress the infix nature of an operator, enclose just its name in parentheses, as in (+).

The precedences of Prooftoys infix operators in order from lowest to highest, in the input syntax, are:

  =, !=, <, <=, >, >=
  +, -
  *, /

Items on the same line have equal precedence. All are left-associative, so a + b - c is the same as (a + b) - c and a => b => c is the same as (a => b) => c. The ==, which displays as , is for boolean equivalence, which is technically just equality of true/false values.

Function calls

Calls to other functions, using a constant or variable name, or a functional expression (see below), use the ordinary function call syntax. In this syntax, to call a function f with argument x, write f x, where f could be any expresssion, though it should have a function as its value. For example R x means “x is a real number”. To call a function with more arguments, just write the expressions for all the arguments following the expression for the function, e.g. log x 10.

Ordinary function calls have precedence over all infix operators, so sin x / 2 means the same as (sin x) / 2.

On the other hand, an expression f g x represents a call to f with two argument, g and x. Also be sure to be aware that a call to f with argument g x is written as f (g x).

For example, a statement that might be conventionally written as

f(x) = x + 1

would be written in Prooftys as

(f x) = x + 1

or omitting the parentheses around the function call, like this:

f x = x + 1

Functional expressions

Any expression can be enclosed in parentheses to guarantee its grouping, but an expression enclosed in brackets or braces always represents a function. For example a definition of a function that squares a number might look like:

square = [x. x * x]

(Function and predicate definitions are usually written without a functional expression, for example square x = x * x. The two styles of definitions are fully equivalent.)

Similarly, a predicate that is true just for positive numbers could be defined as:

positive = {x. 0 < x}

providing a conventional set notation.

Note: Brackets and braces are parse to exactly the same internal structure, but Prooftoys currently displays all functions and predicates using braces, e.g. {x. x * x}.

For a relation (e.g. two argument predicate), the logic uses nested lambdas. So we define “greater than” in terms of “less than” like this:

greater = {x. {y. y < x}}

This is equivalent to the definition greater x y == y < x.


A typical statement with a universal quantifier has a form like:

∀ {x. <some-formula> }

and a typical existential statement looks something like:

∃ {x. <some-formula> }

How can that be? In this logic, quantifiers are defined predicates, not primitives of the language. They take an argument that is a collection. The universal quantifier predicate is named “forall” and displays as . The existential quantifier is named “exists” and displays as .

The term {x. p x} can be read as set notation, as something like “the collection of x that have the property p”.

The boolean term ∀ {x. p x} is true exactly if every possible value of x has property p.

Quantifiers without braces

An expression of the form {x. p x} can be shortened to just p, and in some situations you will see a statement such as

∃ p

This is sometimes referred to as Prooftoys “native form” and is often used in preference to the more conventional-looking equivalent:

∃ {x. p x}

Next steps

A good next step might be to introduce yourself to inference in Prooftoys.