The = operator compares two values; e.g., 1=2 will evaluate to false, because 1 is not equal to 2.


= compares two values


= assigns a value to a variable

Here is what's right.

In Java, and in many other languages, the = operator does not compare values, but it assigns the value on its right to the variable on its left.

Thus, a=1 will store the value 1 in the variable a.

This also means that 1=2 will not compile, because the left-hand-side of the assignment (1) does not represent a variable, which means that it’s not possible to store a value in it. The compiler will report an error when it encounters expressions like 1=2.

Where could this misconception come from?

This misconception may stem from prior knowledge in mathematics, where = means equals (i.e., is a comparison operator).

How do you know your students might have this misconception?

Students may use (inadvertently or not) a single = operator in expressions used as conditions.

The most common place where the mistake happens is probably within if statements, such as

if (x = 1) {

How can you build on this misconception?

In other programming languages (such as Pascal), the = operator indeed performs a comparison between its operands. In those languages, a different operator (e.g, := ) is used for an assignment.

Stay up-to-date

Follow us on  twitter to hear about new misconceptions.