Definition of variable in English:



  • 1Not consistent or having a fixed pattern; liable to change.

    ‘the quality of hospital food is highly variable’
    ‘awards can be for variable amounts’
    • ‘All eligible members will get a fixed allocation of 185 shares and a variable amount based on the length of time they have held their policies and the sum invested.’
    • ‘In the southern and central parts, weather is more variable from October to April than in the north.’
    • ‘Where pertinent, costs will be divided into fixed and variable components to help better determine which option is more economical.’
    • ‘There are two types of interest rate to choose from, i.e.: fixed interest rates and variable interest rates.’
    • ‘Very roughly speaking, this process divides expected expenses into fixed and variable components and develops a budget estimate for each.’
    • ‘Ulster Bank will also offer both fixed and variable rate deposit accounts.’
    • ‘Staffing is adequate in numbers but variable in quality.’
    • ‘However, as is typical for desert regions, the amount and distribution of yearly rainfall are highly variable.’
    • ‘York's already variable air quality is set to worsen to the point that the city is penalised by the Government.’
    • ‘Make a chart and list all your fixed and variable expenses, down to your weekly lottery ticket purchases.’
    • ‘The cyclical nature of our weather changes point to the variables in our solar system and even galactic variations.’
    • ‘Second, real economic conditions within Europe are likely to be more variable and volatile.’
    • ‘Financial reporting patterns were variable both across companies and over time.’
    • ‘Local weather patterns are highly variable, and only long-term changes in averages have any significance.’
    • ‘Moreover, rainfall is highly variable, and the start and end of the two rainy seasons are unreliable.’
    • ‘Canyonlands' climate is extreme and highly variable - temperatures may fluctuate as much as 40 degrees in a single day.’
    • ‘Even the music, which, whilst variable in quality, has some genuinely affecting moments, ultimately seems insubstantial.’
    • ‘Chapter introductions contain inconsistent bits of information and are highly variable in their length and information content.’
    • ‘The contractor was subject to a yearly rental, composed of a fixed amount plus a variable amount that depended on yearly profits.’
    • ‘The menopause is an event that tends to be highly variable in timing and pattern.’
    • ‘The multiple signs and symptoms of intoxication and withdrawal often are not consistent because of variable dosages and the adulteration of drugs.’
    changeable, changing, varying, shifting, fluctuating, irregular, wavering, vacillating, inconstant, inconsistent, fluid, floating, unsteady, uneven, unstable, unsettled, movable, mutable, protean, chameleonic, unfixed, fitful, capricious, temperamental, fickle, kaleidoscopic, volatile, unpredictable, undependable, unreliable
    up and down, blowing hot and cold
    changeful, variational
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1(of a wind) tending to change direction.
      • ‘The ground level winds were variable, but mostly coming from the north.’
      • ‘The wind was quite variable during the course of the day, with a 20 km easterly tailwind at the start, turning southerly and reducing as the day progressed.’
      • ‘The isobars are more or less concentric and are widely spaced around the centre of the high and thus, in contrast to depressions, winds are usually light and sometimes rather variable.’
      • ‘The weather was scattered low clouds, light and variable winds, with thunderstorms in the area.’
      • ‘Winds will be light and variable and the nights will be misty, with fog patches.’
      • ‘In their quest to achieve good results, competitors faced the challenges of not only the large number of boats, but strong tides and variable wind conditions.’
      • ‘The variable winds and mild weather last Saturday was perfect for the start of the second round of yacht racing off the shores of Ocean Marina.’
      • ‘On another day, light and variable winds, combined with strong tides, affected competition.’
      changeable, changing, varying, shifting, fluctuating, irregular, wavering, vacillating, inconstant, inconsistent, fluid, floating, unsteady, uneven, unstable, unsettled, movable, mutable, protean, chameleonic, unfixed, fitful, capricious, temperamental, fickle, kaleidoscopic, volatile, unpredictable, undependable, unreliable
      up and down, blowing hot and cold
      changeful, variational
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2Mathematics (of a quantity) able to assume different numerical values.
      • ‘Brown's formulae involved some 1,650 trigonometric terms, many of them with variable coefficients.’
      • ‘By examining the limits of sums, products and quotients of variable quantities, Mengoli was setting up the basic rules if the calculus thirty years before Newton and Leibniz.’
      • ‘As gene diversity is a continuous variable, the expected value of the parameter was calculated using a sliding window of 0.0125.’
      • ‘He extended the applications of the operational method to linear ordinary differential equations with variable coefficients.’
      • ‘In particular he published a paper on the Cauchy problem for equations with variable coefficients in 1956.’
      • ‘He replaced the differential operator d/dx by a variable p transforming a differential equation into an algebraic equation.’
    3. 1.3Botany Zoology (of a species) liable to deviate from the typical color or form, or to occur in different colors or forms.
      • ‘Although its resemblance to T. sowerbyi is not particularly close, it falls within the morphologic range of this very variable species.’
      • ‘Barycrinus rhombiferis is also the most morphologically variable species of Barycrinus, possessing a wide array of polymorphic characters.’
      • ‘The species is morphologically variable and exhibits more molecular variation than A. hypogaea.’
      • ‘The Canada Goose is a highly variable species which has long caused headaches for taxonomists.’
      • ‘In each of these studies the material assigned to Dellea was interpreted as representing one long-ranging and rather highly variable species.’
      • ‘For example, all specimens assigned to the Incertae familiae, discussed below, were treated as members of one highly variable species.’
  • 2Able to be changed or adapted.

    ‘the drill has variable speed’
    • ‘All centrifuges have the capability to tilt at various angles and spin at infinitely variable speeds.’
    • ‘The university was able to upgrade all of its chillers to high-efficiency units and install variable speed pumping units.’
    • ‘Efficient motors, variable speed drives and economizer cycles all can be used to minimize energy consumption.’
    • ‘An infinitely variable camshaft timing device has a control valve located in the rotor.’
    • ‘Temperature is variable from 0° to 210° Celsius and the unit can produce cold water, hot water and wet or dry steam.’
    • ‘Natural-gas-fired absorption chillers and variable speed pumps, motors and fans increase the efficiency of the cooling and heating system.’
    • ‘The heatsink fan operates with variable speed.’
    • ‘The horsepower varies from 140 to 180, and variable horsepower is available on all models.’
    • ‘The arrows are metal-tipped and made of carbon, with a shaft diameter of up to 9.3mm and of a variable length depending on the archer.’
    • ‘Unlike any other tape drive, VXA can operate at variable speed.’
    • ‘Yet sales of variable speed motors make up a small share of the market.’
    • ‘‘When you are operating a motor with variable speed you have more flexibility,’ he says.’
    • ‘The variable design allows buyers to choose between a layout of four bedrooms and one reception room or three bedrooms and two reception rooms.’
    • ‘A drill with variable speeds is crucial; if you don't own one, buy one - it's a must-have tool.’
    • ‘Newer, quieter fan motors with variable speed drives allow a larger box to be selected at a lower fan speed, reducing noise.’
    • ‘As an example, we like to think of the English language as infinitely variable and rich.’
    • ‘It also includes a variable temperature control panel and a 30-minute timer that should minimise the risk of over and undercooking.’
    1. 2.1(of a gear) designed to give varying ratios or speeds.
      • ‘The CVT in the car's name stands for continuously variable transmission.’
      • ‘The invention of variable gearing enabled bicyclists and cars alike to change the speed of peak efficiency.’
      • ‘In addition to a standard five-speed manual transmission, there is a new five speed automatic and a continuously variable transmission.’
      • ‘Thanks to a continuously variable transmission, throttle response is very linear as gear ratios are always optimized for the available engine power and road conditions.’
      • ‘Japan's leading maker of continuously variable transmissions is gearing up for a big increase in sales over the next five years.’


  • 1An element, feature, or factor that is liable to vary or change.

    ‘there are too many variables involved to make any meaningful predictions’
    • ‘It is the interaction of these variables and other modifying variables, such as demographics, that allow for the prediction of health behaviors.’
    • ‘First, gender could be such a salient factor that other variables have little influence.’
    • ‘‘Some no doubt merit a prison sentence, but there are a whole range of significant variables involved,’ he explained.’
    • ‘There are tons of variables: light fading, extras being available, going into overtime, make-up delays, actors' egos.’
    • ‘Ball trajectory into a bunker can determine the outcome of a lie in a bunker, and this factor interacts with other variables already mentioned.’
    • ‘Indeed, when you factor out variables like having children, the wage gap virtually disappears.’
    • ‘Climate-change forecasts… are like financial forecasts but involve a vastly more complex array of variables.’
    • ‘Understand that in college admissions, grades are only one of the many variables that are factored into the selection process.’
    • ‘I build lots of spreadsheets and factor in a lot of variables.’
    • ‘It allowed companies which were relocating to factor in such variables as traffic congestion, staff availability and potential for weather damage.’
    • ‘Childhood mental ability is a significant factor among the variables that predict age at death.’
    • ‘One of the most important variables is the timing of the beginning of the wet season.’
    • ‘There is almost a nightmare element to the many variables that are coming together at one point in time.’
    • ‘But even in this computerised age, avalanche prediction is an inexact science and that is because of the variables involved.’
    • ‘The test requires a number of independent observations of the same variable over a period of time.’
    • ‘Luck is the one thing clubs can't factor into their timing; the one variable that can throw out the whole plan for success if a key player is put out for the rest of the year.’
    • ‘But fire damage was hard to predict, as too many other variables are involved.’
    • ‘Even a modest house can be full of complexity when constructive and spatial variables overlap with sociological factors.’
    • ‘This station recorded standard climatic variables such as temperature, rainfall, daylight hours, etc.’
    • ‘There are so many other variables involved that it is impossible to know.’
    1. 1.1Mathematics A quantity that during a calculation is assumed to vary or be capable of varying in value.
      • ‘Many of these mathematicians turned to other topics such as topology, differential equations, and functions of a complex variable.’
      • ‘The margin for continuous variables is defined as a one standard deviation increase from the weighted mean.’
      • ‘In addition to his work in set theory, he did groundbreaking work in measure theory, the theory of real variables, and game theory.’
      • ‘Perhaps his most important contribution was to the calculus of several variables.’
      • ‘That is, the direction of a variable's effect does nor typically change as it interacts with other variables.’
    2. 1.2Computing A data item that may take on more than one value during the runtime of a program.
      • ‘The stereotypical assumption is like the default value assigned to a variable in a computer program.’
      • ‘A given variable can contain any data type of any length and can then have data of any type and length reassigned to it without producing an error.’
      • ‘The application may make copies of the data in local program variables, but it is not required.’
      • ‘This allows you to easily manage all the resources in the Web site such as, graphic files, data objects and variables.’
      • ‘All of the configuration is handled by a few Perl variables at the top of the program.’
    3. 1.3Astronomy
      short for variable star
      • ‘The study of variable stars, or just variables, as they are known - is extremely important for understanding the stellar life-cycle.’
      • ‘The variable stars in the above image are RR Lyrae variables, single stars that pulsate with periods of about half a day.’
      • ‘Brownlee is an expert on comets and space dust; Szkody is an authority on binary star systems called cataclysmic variables.’
      • ‘The first such variable was seen in the constellation Cepheid in 1784.’
    4. 1.4The region of light, variable winds to the north of the northeast trade winds or (in the southern hemisphere) between the southeast trade winds and the westerlies.


Late Middle English: via Old French from Latin variabilis, from variare (see vary).