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mathematics Mathematics is an area of knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their changes. These topics are represented in modern mathematics ...
and
statistics Statistics (from German: ''Statistik'', "description of a state, a country") is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, indust ...
, a quantitative variable may be continuous or discrete if they are typically obtained by ''measuring'' or ''
counting Counting is the process of determining the number of elements of a finite set of objects, i.e., determining the size of a set. The traditional way of counting consists of continually increasing a (mental or spoken) counter by a unit for every e ...
'', respectively. If it can take on two particular real values such that it can also take on all real values between them (even values that are arbitrarily close together), the variable is continuous in that interval. If it can take on a value such that there is a non-
infinitesimal In mathematics, an infinitesimal number is a quantity that is closer to zero than any standard real number, but that is not zero. The word ''infinitesimal'' comes from a 17th-century Modern Latin coinage ''infinitesimus'', which originally refe ...
gap on each side of it containing no values that the variable can take on, then it is discrete around that value. In some contexts a variable can be discrete in some ranges of the
number line In elementary mathematics, a number line is a picture of a graduated straight line that serves as visual representation of the real numbers. Every point of a number line is assumed to correspond to a real number, and every real number to a po ...
and continuous in others.


Continuous variable

A continuous variable is a variable whose value is obtained by measuring, i.e., one which can take on an
uncountable set In mathematics, an uncountable set (or uncountably infinite set) is an infinite set that contains too many elements to be countable. The uncountability of a set is closely related to its cardinal number: a set is uncountable if its cardinal num ...
of values. For example, a variable over a non-empty range of the
real number In mathematics, a real number is a number that can be used to measure a ''continuous'' one- dimensional quantity such as a distance, duration or temperature. Here, ''continuous'' means that values can have arbitrarily small variations. Ever ...
s is continuous, if it can take on any value in that range. The reason is that any range of real numbers between a and b with a, b \in \mathbb; a \neq b is uncountable. Methods of
calculus Calculus, originally called infinitesimal calculus or "the calculus of infinitesimals", is the mathematical study of continuous change, in the same way that geometry is the study of shape, and algebra is the study of generalizations of arit ...
are often used in problems in which the variables are continuous, for example in continuous
optimization Mathematical optimization (alternatively spelled ''optimisation'') or mathematical programming is the selection of a best element, with regard to some criterion, from some set of available alternatives. It is generally divided into two subfi ...
problems. In
statistical theory The theory of statistics provides a basis for the whole range of techniques, in both study design and data analysis, that are used within applications of statistics. The theory covers approaches to statistical-decision problems and to statistica ...
, the
probability distribution In probability theory and statistics, a probability distribution is the mathematical function that gives the probabilities of occurrence of different possible outcomes for an experiment. It is a mathematical description of a random phenomeno ...
s of continuous variables can be expressed in terms of
probability density function In probability theory, a probability density function (PDF), or density of a continuous random variable, is a function whose value at any given sample (or point) in the sample space (the set of possible values taken by the random variable) can ...
s. In
continuous-time In mathematical dynamics, discrete time and continuous time are two alternative frameworks within which variables that evolve over time are modeled. Discrete time Discrete time views values of variables as occurring at distinct, separate "po ...
dynamics, the variable ''time'' is treated as continuous, and the equation describing the evolution of some variable over time is a
differential equation In mathematics, a differential equation is an equation that relates one or more unknown functions and their derivatives. In applications, the functions generally represent physical quantities, the derivatives represent their rates of change, a ...
. The instantaneous rate of change is a well-defined concept.


Discrete variable

In contrast, a variable is a discrete variable if and only if there exists a one-to-one correspondence between this variable and \mathbb, the set of
natural numbers In mathematics, the natural numbers are those numbers used for counting (as in "there are ''six'' coins on the table") and ordering (as in "this is the ''third'' largest city in the country"). Numbers used for counting are called ''cardinal n ...
. In other words; a discrete variable over a particular interval of real values is one for which, for any value in the range that the variable is permitted to take on, there is a positive minimum distance to the nearest other permissible value. The number of permitted values is either finite or
countably infinite In mathematics, a set is countable if either it is finite or it can be made in one to one correspondence with the set of natural numbers. Equivalently, a set is ''countable'' if there exists an injective function from it into the natural numbe ...
. Common examples are variables that must be integers, non-negative integers, positive integers, or only the integers 0 and 1. Methods of calculus do not readily lend themselves to problems involving discrete variables. Examples of problems involving discrete variables include
integer programming An integer programming problem is a mathematical optimization or feasibility program in which some or all of the variables are restricted to be integers. In many settings the term refers to integer linear programming (ILP), in which the objective ...
. In statistics, the probability distributions of discrete variables can be expressed in terms of
probability mass function In probability and statistics, a probability mass function is a function that gives the probability that a discrete random variable is exactly equal to some value. Sometimes it is also known as the discrete density function. The probability ma ...
s. In
discrete time In mathematical dynamics, discrete time and continuous time are two alternative frameworks within which variables that evolve over time are modeled. Discrete time Discrete time views values of variables as occurring at distinct, separate "po ...
dynamics, the variable ''time'' is treated as discrete, and the equation of evolution of some variable over time is called a
difference equation In mathematics, a recurrence relation is an equation according to which the nth term of a sequence of numbers is equal to some combination of the previous terms. Often, only k previous terms of the sequence appear in the equation, for a parameter ...
. In
econometrics Econometrics is the application of statistical methods to economic data in order to give empirical content to economic relationships. M. Hashem Pesaran (1987). "Econometrics," '' The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics'', v. 2, p. 8 p. 8 ...
and more generally in
regression analysis In statistical modeling, regression analysis is a set of statistical processes for estimating the relationships between a dependent variable (often called the 'outcome' or 'response' variable, or a 'label' in machine learning parlance) and one ...
, sometimes some of the variables being
empirical Empirical evidence for a proposition is evidence, i.e. what supports or counters this proposition, that is constituted by or accessible to sense experience or experimental procedure. Empirical evidence is of central importance to the sciences ...
ly related to each other are 0-1 variables, being permitted to take on only those two values. A variable of this type is called a dummy variable. If the
dependent variable Dependent and independent variables are variables in mathematical modeling, statistical modeling and experimental sciences. Dependent variables receive this name because, in an experiment, their values are studied under the supposition or demand ...
is a dummy variable, then
logistic regression In statistics, the logistic model (or logit model) is a statistical model that models the probability of an event taking place by having the log-odds for the event be a linear combination of one or more independent variables. In regression a ...
or probit regression is commonly employed.


See also

*
Continuous function In mathematics, a continuous function is a function such that a continuous variation (that is a change without jump) of the argument induces a continuous variation of the value of the function. This means that there are no abrupt changes in val ...
* Count data *
Discrete mathematics Discrete mathematics is the study of mathematical structures that can be considered "discrete" (in a way analogous to discrete variables, having a bijection with the set of natural numbers) rather than "continuous" (analogously to continuous ...
*
Continuous spectrum In physics, a continuous spectrum usually means a set of attainable values for some physical quantity (such as energy or wavelength) that is best described as an interval of real numbers, as opposed to a discrete spectrum, a set of attain ...
* Discrete spectrum *
Discrete time and continuous time In mathematical dynamics, discrete time and continuous time are two alternative frameworks within which variables that evolve over time are modeled. Discrete time Discrete time views values of variables as occurring at distinct, separate "po ...
* Continuous-time stochastic process *
Discrete-time stochastic process In probability theory and related fields, a stochastic () or random process is a mathematical object usually defined as a family of random variables. Stochastic processes are widely used as mathematical models of systems and phenomena that ap ...
* Continuous modelling * Discrete modelling * Continuous geometry *
Discrete geometry Discrete geometry and combinatorial geometry are branches of geometry that study combinatorial properties and constructive methods of discrete geometric objects. Most questions in discrete geometry involve finite or discrete sets of basic geom ...
* Continuous series representation * Discrete series representation *
Discretization In applied mathematics, discretization is the process of transferring continuous functions, models, variables, and equations into discrete counterparts. This process is usually carried out as a first step toward making them suitable for numerica ...
*
Interpolation In the mathematical field of numerical analysis, interpolation is a type of estimation, a method of constructing (finding) new data points based on the range of a discrete set of known data points. In engineering and science, one often has ...
*
Discrete measure In mathematics, more precisely in measure theory, a measure on the real line is called a discrete measure (in respect to the Lebesgue measure) if it is concentrated on an at most countable set. The support need not be a discrete set. Geometri ...


References

{{reflist Mathematical terminology