Presburger arithmetic

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Presburger arithmetic is the first-order theory of the natural numbers with addition, named in honor of Mojżesz Presburger, who introduced it in 1929. The signature of Presburger arithmetic contains only the addition operation and equality, omitting the multiplication operation entirely. The axioms include a schema of induction.

Presburger arithmetic is much weaker than Peano arithmetic, which includes both addition and multiplication operations. Unlike Peano arithmetic, Presburger arithmetic is a decidable theory. This means it is possible to effectively determine, for any sentence in the language of Presburger arithmetic, whether that sentence is provable from the axioms of Presburger arithmetic. The asymptotic running-time computational complexity of this decision problem is doubly exponential, however, as shown by Fischer and Rabin (1974).



The language of Presburger arithmetic contains constants 0 and 1 and a binary function +, interpreted as addition. In this language, the axioms of Presburger arithmetic are the universal closures of the following:

(5) is an axiom schema of induction, representing infinitely many axioms. Since the axioms in the schema in (5) cannot be replaced by any finite number of axioms, Presburger arithmetic is not finitely axiomatizable.

Presburger arithmetic cannot formalize concepts such as divisibility or prime number. Generally, any number concept leading to multiplication cannot be defined in Presburger arithmetic since that leads to incompleteness and undecidability. However, it can formulate individual instances of divisibility; for example, it proves "for all x, there exists y : (y + y = x) ∨ (y + y + 1 = x)". This states that every number is either even or odd.


Mojżesz Presburger proved Presburger arithmetic to be:

  • consistent: There is no statement in Presburger arithmetic which can be deduced from the axioms such that its negation can also be deduced.
  • complete: For each statement in Presburger arithmetic, either it is possible to deduce it from the axioms or it is possible to deduce its negation.
  • decidable: There exists an algorithm which decides whether any given statement in Presburger arithmetic is true or false.

The decidability of Presburger arithmetic can be shown using quantifier elimination, supplemented by reasoning about arithmetical congruence (Enderton 2001, p. 188).

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