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’
    • ‘Very roughly speaking, this process divides expected expenses into fixed and variable components and develops a budget estimate for each.’
    • ‘Even the music, which, whilst variable in quality, has some genuinely affecting moments, ultimately seems insubstantial.’
    • ‘Moreover, rainfall is highly variable, and the start and end of the two rainy seasons are unreliable.’
    • ‘There are two types of interest rate to choose from, i.e.: fixed interest rates and variable interest rates.’
    • ‘Local weather patterns are highly variable, and only long-term changes in averages have any significance.’
    • ‘York's already variable air quality is set to worsen to the point that the city is penalised by the Government.’
    • ‘The menopause is an event that tends to be highly variable in timing and pattern.’
    • ‘Ulster Bank will also offer both fixed and variable rate deposit accounts.’
    • ‘The cyclical nature of our weather changes point to the variables in our solar system and even galactic variations.’
    • ‘Canyonlands' climate is extreme and highly variable - temperatures may fluctuate as much as 40 degrees in a single day.’
    • ‘The contractor was subject to a yearly rental, composed of a fixed amount plus a variable amount that depended on yearly profits.’
    • ‘In the southern and central parts, weather is more variable from October to April than in the north.’
    • ‘Chapter introductions contain inconsistent bits of information and are highly variable in their length and information content.’
    • ‘Where pertinent, costs will be divided into fixed and variable components to help better determine which option is more economical.’
    • ‘However, as is typical for desert regions, the amount and distribution of yearly rainfall are highly variable.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The multiple signs and symptoms of intoxication and withdrawal often are not consistent because of variable dosages and the adulteration of drugs.’
    • ‘Financial reporting patterns were variable both across companies and over time.’
    • ‘Make a chart and list all your fixed and variable expenses, down to your weekly lottery ticket purchases.’
    • ‘Staffing is adequate in numbers but variable in quality.’
    • ‘Second, real economic conditions within Europe are likely to be more variable and volatile.’
    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.
      ‘winds will be light and variable’
      • ‘The weather was scattered low clouds, light and variable winds, with thunderstorms in the area.’
      • ‘On another day, light and variable winds, combined with strong tides, affected competition.’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘Winds will be light and variable and the nights will be misty, with fog patches.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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 ground level winds were variable, but mostly coming from the north.’
      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.
      • ‘He replaced the differential operator d/dx by a variable p transforming a differential equation into an algebraic equation.’
      • ‘In particular he published a paper on the Cauchy problem for equations with variable coefficients in 1956.’
      • ‘He extended the applications of the operational method to linear ordinary differential equations with variable coefficients.’
      • ‘As gene diversity is a continuous variable, the expected value of the parameter was calculated using a sliding window of 0.0125.’
      • ‘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.’
    3. 1.3Zoology Botany (of a species) liable to deviate from the typical colour or form, or to occur in different colours 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.’
      • ‘For example, all specimens assigned to the Incertae familiae, discussed below, were treated as members of one highly variable species.’
      • ‘In each of these studies the material assigned to Dellea was interpreted as representing one long-ranging and rather highly variable species.’
      • ‘The Canada Goose is a highly variable species which has long caused headaches for taxonomists.’
      • ‘The species is morphologically variable and exhibits more molecular variation than A. hypogaea.’
  • 2Able to be changed or adapted.

    ‘the drill has variable speed’
    • ‘As an example, we like to think of the English language as infinitely variable and rich.’
    • ‘‘When you are operating a motor with variable speed you have more flexibility,’ he says.’
    • ‘Efficient motors, variable speed drives and economizer cycles all can be used to minimize energy consumption.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The university was able to upgrade all of its chillers to high-efficiency units and install variable speed pumping units.’
    • ‘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 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.’
    • ‘Newer, quieter fan motors with variable speed drives allow a larger box to be selected at a lower fan speed, reducing noise.’
    • ‘It also includes a variable temperature control panel and a 30-minute timer that should minimise the risk of over and undercooking.’
    • ‘A drill with variable speeds is crucial; if you don't own one, buy one - it's a must-have tool.’
    • ‘All centrifuges have the capability to tilt at various angles and spin at infinitely variable speeds.’
    • ‘The variable design allows buyers to choose between a layout of four bedrooms and one reception room or three bedrooms and two reception rooms.’
    • ‘The heatsink fan operates with variable speed.’
    • ‘The horsepower varies from 140 to 180, and variable horsepower is available on all models.’
    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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘In addition to a standard five-speed manual transmission, there is a new five speed automatic and a continuously variable transmission.’


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

    ‘there are too many variables involved to make any meaningful predictions’
    • ‘The test requires a number of independent observations of the same variable over a period of time.’
    • ‘But even in this computerised age, avalanche prediction is an inexact science and that is because of the variables involved.’
    • ‘There are so many other variables involved that it is impossible to know.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Understand that in college admissions, grades are only one of the many variables that are factored into the selection process.’
    • ‘Childhood mental ability is a significant factor among the variables that predict age at death.’
    • ‘Even a modest house can be full of complexity when constructive and spatial variables overlap with sociological factors.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘There is almost a nightmare element to the many variables that are coming together at one point in time.’
    • ‘There are tons of variables: light fading, extras being available, going into overtime, make-up delays, actors' egos.’
    • ‘I build lots of spreadsheets and factor in a lot of variables.’
    • ‘Ball trajectory into a bunker can determine the outcome of a lie in a bunker, and this factor interacts with other variables already mentioned.’
    • ‘But fire damage was hard to predict, as too many other variables are involved.’
    • ‘It allowed companies which were relocating to factor in such variables as traffic congestion, staff availability and potential for weather damage.’
    • ‘One of the most important variables is the timing of the beginning of the wet season.’
    • ‘Indeed, when you factor out variables like having children, the wage gap virtually disappears.’
    • ‘‘Some no doubt merit a prison sentence, but there are a whole range of significant variables involved,’ he explained.’
    • ‘This station recorded standard climatic variables such as temperature, rainfall, daylight hours, etc.’
    • ‘Climate-change forecasts… are like financial forecasts but involve a vastly more complex array of variables.’
    1. 1.1Mathematics A quantity which during a calculation is assumed to vary or be capable of varying in value.
      • ‘In addition to his work in set theory, he did groundbreaking work in measure theory, the theory of real variables, and game theory.’
      • ‘Many of these mathematicians turned to other topics such as topology, differential equations, and functions of a complex variable.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The margin for continuous variables is defined as a one standard deviation increase from the weighted mean.’
    2. 1.2Computing A data item that may take on more than one value during the runtime of a 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.’
      • ‘The stereotypical assumption is like the default value assigned to a variable in a computer program.’
      • ‘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 first such variable was seen in the constellation Cepheid in 1784.’
      • ‘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 study of variable stars, or just variables, as they are known - is extremely important for understanding the stellar life-cycle.’
    4. 1.4The region of light, variable winds to the north of the NE trade winds or (in the southern hemisphere) between the SE trade winds and the westerlies.


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