The PHP Ternary Operator is a shorthand syntax for an if-else statement. It provides a concise way to write conditional expressions in a single line of code.

The usage of the ternary operator is frequent when assigning values to variables based on specific conditions.

Let’s take a look at its syntax in PHP.

The Basic Syntax

The basic syntax of the PHP Ternary Operator is:

$variable = (condition) ? true_value : false_value;

Here, the condition is the expression that is evaluated. If it is true, the variable is assigned the true_value; otherwise, it is assigned the false_value.

Anyway, the ternary operator is useful for writing compact and readable code when dealing with simple conditional assignments. However, it’s important to use it judiciously and consider readability, as complex ternary expressions can become difficult to understand.

Let’s take an example of how to write shorthand using the ternary operator within PHP.

Using the Shorthand Ternary Operator in PHP

The ternary operator itself is often informally called the shorthand or conditional operator because it provides a compact syntax for expressing conditional statements in a single line. It is commonly used for quick, one-line assignments based on a condition. Here’s a brief example:


$age = 25;
$isAdult = ($age >= 18) ? true : false;


In this example, the ternary operator serves as a shorthand way to assign the boolean value true to the variable $isAdult if the condition $age >= 18 is true, and false otherwise. The term “shorthand” reflects the brevity and simplicity that the ternary operator introduces compared to the more verbose if-else statements.

In this way, we just need to understand the difference between the traditional if statement and the ternary operator. Let’s move on to the following section to delve into more details.

Ternary Operator vs. Traditional If-Else Statements in PHP

The Ternary Operator provides a concise way to express the conditional assignment in a single line. However, for more complex conditions or multiple actions, the traditional If-Else Statements may be preferred for better readability and maintainability.

Consequently, the Ternary Operator and traditional If-Else Statements in PHP serve distinct purposes, and their differences can be illustrated through a simple example. Consider checking whether a given number is even or odd.

PHP Ternary Operator:


$number = 10;
$result = ($number % 2 === 0) ? 'even' : 'odd';
echo "The number is $result.";


The condition $number % 2 === 0 is evaluated. If true, 'even' is assigned to the $result variable; otherwise, 'odd' is assigned. The entire operation is condensed into a single line, promoting conciseness and readability for straightforward conditions.

On the other hand, with traditional If-Else Statements:


$number = 10;
if ($number % 2 === 0) {
    $result = 'even';
} else {
    $result = 'odd';
echo "The number is $result.";


The condition is checked using the if statement. If true, 'even' is assigned to $result; otherwise, the else block assigns 'odd'. This approach is more suitable for scenarios with complex conditions or multiple actions, as it allows for a clearer and more structured representation of the logic.

Let’s take a look at another pattern for the PHP ternary operator, specifically the nested ternary operator.

Nested Ternary Operator

Nested ternary operators refer to the use of multiple ternary operators within a single expression. This can lead to concise yet complex conditional logic, but it requires careful consideration of readability. Here’s an example to illustrate nested ternary operators:


$number = 10;
$result = ($number % 2 === 0) 
    ? ($number > 0) 
        ? 'positive and even' 
        : 'even but not positive' 
    : 'odd';

echo "The number is $result.";


In this example:

  • The outer ternary operator checks if $number is even.
  • If true, the inner ternary operator checks if $number is positive.
  • Depending on the conditions, different messages are assigned to the $result variable.

Additionally, you can utilize the ternary operator with short echo tags. Let’s explore how it works through an example.

Ternary Operator in Short Echo Tags in PHP

In PHP, the ternary operator can be utilized within short echo tags (<?= ... ?>) to conditionally output values. Short echo tags are a shorthand way of writing an echo statement.

Here’s an example demonstrating the use of the ternary operator within short echo tags:


$score = 75;

// Using Ternary Operator in Short Echo Tags
echo "Your result: ", ($score >= 70) ? 'Pass' : 'Fail';


This results in the output message “Your result: Pass” if the score is 75 or higher, and ‘Your result: Fail’ if the score is below 70.

Let’s summarize it.

Wrapping Up

the PHP Ternary Operator offers a concise syntax for expressing conditional assignments in a single line of code, providing a quick and efficient way to handle simple conditions. While it promotes brevity and readability for straightforward assignments, it’s crucial to use it judiciously, especially for more complex scenarios.

The comparison between the Ternary Operator and traditional If-Else Statements highlights the distinct purposes each serves. The Ternary Operator is suitable for streamlined, one-line assignments, while If-Else Statements are preferable for more intricate conditions or multiple actions, enhancing code readability and maintainability.

The exploration of nested ternary operators introduces a more advanced pattern, emphasizing the importance of carefully balancing conciseness with readability in complex conditional logic.

Additionally, the ability to use the ternary operator within short echo tags provides a convenient way to conditionally output values, streamlining the process of generating dynamic content in PHP.

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