I'm looking for a generic word, an adjective, that means non-divisible. Like the opposite of compound.

I am looking for a word I can use in the context of programming, where you can have data types that are compound of other data types. I want a word to identify the "indivisible" data types.

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    indivisible – 0.. Apr 26 '14 at 23:32
  • monomorphemic . – user31341 Apr 26 '14 at 23:38
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    ‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎atomic – tchrist Apr 26 '14 at 23:40
  • I guess perhaps I asked in the wrong forum. I was looking for something in the context of programming where you can have data types that are compound of other data types. I wanted a word to identify the "indivisible" data types. But I guess indivisible will have to do for now. – Dark Star1 Apr 26 '14 at 23:41
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    "Avoid answering questions in comments". – SimonT Apr 27 '14 at 3:42

The best word for something that cannot be split in a programming context is atomic.

This is used a lot, and is essential for interruptible programming. For example, in a signal handler you should only touch variables of type sig_atomic_t and storage class volatile, as explained here.

  • It also works in physics and logic and pretty much anything else. – Mitch Apr 26 '14 at 23:54
  • Could const type strings be considered "atomic" ? – Joe DF Apr 27 '14 at 0:43
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    Atomic literally means indivisible (a-, negation, and tomos meaning "cut", "cutting" or "section"). – Nick T Apr 27 '14 at 1:00
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    I'm more used to hearing "atomic" used for operations in programming, in the sense that an atomic operation can't be interrupted. So it's indivisible in time, not memory or program structure. An atomic data type would just be one that it's possible to perform atomic operations on. – David Z Apr 27 '14 at 2:27
  • @DavidZ Indeed. I don’t think I understood what he meant at first. Your answer of primitive data types is better. There is a sig_atomic_t as I mentioned, but that has a rather restricted use. – tchrist Apr 27 '14 at 2:29

Quoting from your comment:

I was looking for something in the context of programming where you can have data types that are compound of other data types. I wanted a word to identify the "indivisible" data types.

It sounds like you're asking for a word to describe types like int, double, char, etc. in most programming languages. The most common term I've heard for those is primitive. Some other languages identify them as "built-in" or "basic," but "primitive" is most likely to be recognized by the majority of developers (across all languages) as a term for what you're talking about.

In other contexts, "primitive" would probably not be used to designate an indivisible object. You'd be more likely to hear "indivisible" itself, "fundamental," or "atomic."

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    Primitive data type is a good answer, because that is the term used by The Standard. – tchrist Apr 27 '14 at 2:14
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    @tchrist It seems a poor assumption that the language must be C or C++, but anyway no, the term primitive is not used (in reference to types) in those standards. There are scalar types though, and C has atomic types. – Potatoswatter Apr 27 '14 at 2:48

Consider the adjective, indivisible, and its synonyms: inseparable, indissoluble, undividable.

Edit: In programming, you can refer to atomic types.

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    Are you sure that’s not just some Microsoft thing? – tchrist Apr 26 '14 at 23:49
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    atomic in programming refers not to the indivisibility of contents but to the indivisibility of read-modify-write cycle used in modification. – Jim Apr 26 '14 at 23:56
  • @Jim Careful there. You've forgotten to account for consistent, isolated and durable. – Elliott Frisch Apr 28 '14 at 6:10
  • @ElliottFrisch- You, of course, are talking about the term ACID, in which the A stands for atomicity. The reason the other 3 letters are there is because the A does not include those attributes. – Jim Apr 28 '14 at 14:43

Another possibility: A quantum is a discrete quantity that cannot be subdivided. It is also used as an adjective: quantum leap.


Consider the term "indissociable"


If you're talking data types, those that are not composite are usually known as fundamental, e.g. in C and C++.

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    No, they aren’t. They are called primitive types. – tchrist Apr 27 '14 at 2:13
  • @tchrist That's the manual for GCC, not the language standard. However, pointers are composite and not fundamental so it's probably not the difference OP is thinking of. – Potatoswatter Apr 27 '14 at 2:50

Often, a good antonym for compound is irreducible:

Not able to be reduced or simplified (Oxford Dictionaries)

Another word you might consider is simple, although it does have other meanings that might make it too vague for your purposes:

Composed of a single element; not compound. (Oxford Dictionaries)


Onea: having the indivisible character of a unit

Monad: technical 1A single unit; the number one.

Insecable: Incapable of being divided by a cutting instrument; indivisible.

  • Googling for "insecable", and excluding dictionaries, reveals that it mainly comes up in English translations of text from languages where it's a more common word, or quotations of untranslated text. Also it is used to describe non-breaking spaces in typography. IMO it doesn't belong in the dictionary, at least with such a general definition… you can't expect anyone to just know the word. – Potatoswatter Apr 27 '14 at 2:56
  • A usageaster whose expertise is from google....how interesting ;-) – Third News Apr 27 '14 at 3:48
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    Perhaps, but honestly have you ever seen this word in real usage or did you just get it from a reference? It's not in Webster's or Oxford American dictionaries, but it is fairly common in French. I seriously suspect it's not an English word but just made it into some dictionaries by data-mining. – Potatoswatter Apr 27 '14 at 8:02
  • I like 'monad', but technically, the point of a monad is that it is a completed totality. In particular, it's made up of opposites. – nomen Apr 28 '14 at 9:14
  • I can find no other evidence that "onea" is a word with this meaning, and it also looks quite odd. – herisson Jun 19 '16 at 3:03

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