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What are expressions in JavaScript?

Muhammad Ashir

There are subtle differences between expressions and statements in JavaScript.

An expression is a block of code that evaluates to a value. A statement is any block of code that is performing some action.

The distinction between an expression and a statement is important because an expression is a subset of a statement. You can use an expression wherever a statement is expected, but this does not work vice versa.

Conceptually speaking, there are two kinds of expressions: those that perform some sort of assignment and those that evaluate to a value.

For example, x = 10 is an expression that performs an assignment. This expression itself evaluates to 1010. Such expressions make use of the assignment operator.

On the flip side, the expression 10 + 9 simply evaluates to 1919. These expressions make use of simple operators.

There are five primary categories of expression in JavaScript:

  • Arithmetic: uses arithmetic operators (+ - * / %).
  • String: uses string operators and evaluates to a character string.
  • Logical: evaluates to a boolean value of either True or False and uses boolean operators.
  • Primary expressions: Consists of basic keywords and expressions.
  • Left-hand side expressions: Left-hand side values which are the destination for the assignment operator.

Primary expressions

Primary expressions consist of basic keywords in JavaScript.


this is used to refer to the current object; it usually refers to the method or object that calls it.

this is used either with the dot operator or the bracket operator.


Grouping operator

The grouping operator ( ) is used to determine the evaluation precedence of expressions. For example, the two expressions below evaluate to different results because the order of operations is different in both of them.

a * b - c 
a * (b - c)

a * b - c applies the multiplication operator first and then evaluates the result of the multiplication with - b, while a * (b - c) evaluates the brackets first.

Left-hand side expressions


new creates an instance of the object specified by the user and has the following prototype.

var objectName = new objectType([param1, param2, ..., paramN]);


super calls on the current object’s parent and is useful in classes to call the parent object’s constructor.

super([arguments]); // parent constructor
super.method(args...) // parent's method

Function arguments

The arguments of a function must be an expression, not statements. For example, we can pass in a variable assignment expression as an argument, but we cannot declare a variable in the argument as it is a statement.

Suppose we have the following function:

const function myFunc(arg){

It is reasonable to pass an object or an expression, such as a ternary operator, in the argument as follows:

myFunc("This is okay");
myFunc(true ? "This is okay" : None);

But we cannot pass in a statement here:

var x = 10
myFunc(if(x > 10){'This will not work'});

As a rule of thumb, any code snippet that can be passed on to the console.log function and printed can be used as an argument for a function.




Muhammad Ashir
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