Is there any notation that can represent any member of a particular set? For example, how could I say that I want any real number, or any imaginary number?

I do know there is a symbol to denote "for all", $\forall \Re$, but I don't want that. I want to express that for example that a operation will return any member of the real set.

Is there such a notation?

  • $\begingroup$ If the operation $f$ takes elements of set $A$ as its inputs and always returns an elements of set $B$ as its outputs, one usually writes $f:A\to B$ to indicate this. So if $a\in A$, then $f(a)\in B$ (whatever it is). Of course, this doesn't specify the precise rule of assignment, so it is assumed that you have some particular rule in mind. $\endgroup$
    – MPW
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ @MPW I know that too. What i want is for example when defining a matrix. if $i \geq j$, $a_{ij}= $ any member of $\Re$. Else $a_{ij}= 0$. It's strange. My teacher simply did $a_{ij} = \forall$ but I'm pretty sure that's not the right notation. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 13:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Can't you just use $a_{i j}\in \mathbb{R}$ then? $\endgroup$
    – simonzack
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @simonzack Didn't think about that. Thanks. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


This concept has been used extensively before, I believe it was introduced by Hilbert as the ε-operator in a logical calculus called the ε-calculus. The syntax is $ε\ x\ A(x)$ or $ε\ x.A(x)$ which mean any $x$ satisfying the property $A$. In your case the property you are using is the membership in a set, so you would write $ε\ x.x \in A$ (though I'm not sure if this was allowed in the original calculus). The ε-operator is also used in some formal proof systems, such as HOL (Higher Order Logic).

See also the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  • $\begingroup$ So if I understand correctly $\varepsilon x, x \in \Re$ would mean any x such that it belongs to the real numbers? That's nice! $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2016 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ yes, that's right. Also, the quantifiers $\forall$ and $\exists$ can be defined in terms of the ε-operator. $\endgroup$
    – fairflow
    Sep 8, 2016 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ If you wanted to ensure that your matrix entries were positive on and above the diagonal, for example, you could use $ε\ x. x > 0$ for each element. In some versions of the ε-calculus, this would ensure all entries are equal (axiom of universal choice), in others this would not be guaranteed. $\endgroup$
    – fairflow
    Sep 8, 2016 at 7:02
  • $\begingroup$ correction: since $z=z$ for every $z$, $ε\,x.x>0=ε\,x.x>0$ so all your entries would be the same; it is only if you used another relation equivalent but not equal to $>$ that you might not have equal elements. $\endgroup$
    – fairflow
    Sep 8, 2016 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ @ChemiCalChems if you like my answer, you may consider accepting it if no other answers are forthcoming. $\endgroup$
    – fairflow
    Sep 8, 2016 at 9:20

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