c() Function in R

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This article will provide a detailed look at the c() function, its use, syntax, and how it functions as a key foundation of R programming.

Understanding the c() Function

The c() function is a fundamental function in R that is used to create vectors. The letter ‘c’ stands for ‘concatenate’ or ‘combine’. It is used to combine values into a vector or to add values to an existing vector. The c() function is vital in R because vectors form the basic data structure in R, and they are used in almost every aspect of data manipulation.

Syntax of the c() Function

The syntax of the c() function is straightforward. It takes an arbitrary number of arguments and concatenates them into a vector:

c(..., recursive = FALSE)

Here, the arguments are defined as:

  • ...: these are the values you want to concatenate. They can be individual elements or other vectors.
  • recursive: this is a logical flag which indicates whether to recursively concatenate lists. If recursive = TRUE, the output is a single vector; otherwise, it’s a list.

Basic Usage of the c() Function

Let’s start with a basic use case. Here is how to create a simple numeric vector using the c() function:

# Create a numeric vector
numbers <- c(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

This will output:

[1] 1 2 3 4 5

In the above example, the c() function creates a vector with the numbers 1 through 5.The c() function can also combine several vectors into one:

# Create several numeric vectors
numbers1 <- c(1, 2, 3)
numbers2 <- c(4, 5, 6)
numbers <- c(numbers1, numbers2)

This will output:

[1] 1 2 3 4 5 6

In this example, the c() function combines two vectors into one single vector.

Using Different Data Types

The c() function can work with different data types, such as numbers, characters, or logical values. When you combine different data types, R will coerce the elements to the most flexible type to ensure that everything in the vector is the same type.

mixed <- c(1, "a", TRUE)

This will output:

[1] "1"    "a"    "TRUE"

In this case, the numeric and logical values have been coerced into character strings.

Working with Named Vectors

The c() function can also create named vectors, where each element in the vector has a name. To create a named vector, you can use the = operator:

# Create a named vector
named_vector <- c(first = 1, second = 2, third = 3)

This will output:

 first second  third 
     1      2      3 

In the named vector, the names “first”, “second”, and “third” are associated with the elements 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

Use Cases and Applications

The c() function plays a vital role in R and has various applications:

  • Creating vectors: As we’ve seen throughout this guide, the c() function is primarily used to create vectors, which are fundamental in R.
  • Data transformation: The c() function is often used to transform data, such as reshaping a matrix or combining data from different sources.
  • Subsetting: In data analysis, we often need to subset or slice data. The c() function can be used to create an index vector for subsetting.

Here’s an example of subsetting with the c() function:

numbers <- c(10, 20, 30, 40, 50)
subset <- numbers[c(1, 3, 5)]

This will output:

[1] 10 30 50

In this example, we use the c() function to create an index vector (1, 3, 5) which we then use to subset the numbers vector.


The c() function, while seemingly simple, is a cornerstone of R programming. It plays an essential role in creating and manipulating vectors, the basic data structure of R. As we have seen, it can be used for a wide range of tasks, from basic vector creation to complex data manipulation tasks.

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