Developing Functions in R Part III: Using Functions as Arguments

Previously, we learned how to add nameless arguments to a function using ellipses ‘. . .’.  In this post, we will learn how to use functions as arguments in functions. An argument is the information found within parentheses ( ) or braces { } in R programming. The reason for doing this is that it allows for many shortcuts in coding. Instead of having to retype the formula for something you can pass the function as an argument in order to save a lot of time.

Below is the code that we have been working with for awhile before we add a function as an argument.

Percent_Divided <- function(x, divide = 2, ...) {
 ToPercent <- round(x/divide, ...)
 Output <- paste(ToPercent, "%", sep = "")

As a reminder, the ‘Percent_Divided’ function takes a number or variable ‘x’ divides it by two as a default and adds a ‘ % ‘ sign after number(s). With the ‘. . .’ you can pass other arguments such as ‘digits’ and specify how many number you want after the decimal.  Below is an example of the ‘Percent_Divided’ function in action for a variable called ‘B’ and with the add argument of ‘digits =3’

> B
[1] 23.35345 45.56456 32.12131
> Percent_Divided(B, digits = 3)
[1] "11.677%" "22.782%" "16.061%"

Functions as Arguments

We will now make a function that has a function for an argument. We will set a default function but remember that anything can be passed for the function argument. Below is the code for one way to do this.

Percent_Divided <- function(x, divide = 2,FUN_ARG = round, ...) {
 ToPercent <- FUN_ARG(x/divide, ...)
 Output <- paste(ToPercent, "%", sep = "")

Here is an explanation

  1. Most of this script is the same. The main difference is that we added the argument ‘FUN_ARG’ to the first line of the script. This is the place where we can insert whatever function we want. The default function is ’round’. If we do not specify any function ’round’ will be used.
  2. In the second line of the code you again see ‘FUN_ARG’ this function will be activated after ‘x’ is divided by 2 and whatever arguments are used with the ‘. . .’
  3. The rest of the code has already been explained and has not been changed
  4. Important note. If we do not change the default of ‘FUN_ARG’, which is the ’round’ function, we will keep getting the same answers as always. The ‘FUN_ARG’ is only interesting if we do not use the default.

Below is an example of our modified function. The function we are going to pass through the ‘FUN_ARG’ argument is ‘signif’. ‘signif’ sounds the values in its first argument to the specified number of significant digits. We will also pass the argument ‘digits = 3’ through the ellipses ‘. . .’ The values of variable B (see above) will be used for the function

> Percent_Divided(B, FUN_ARG = signif, digits = 3)
[1] "11.7%" "22.8%" "16.1%"

Here is what happen

  1. The Percent_Divided’ function was run
  2. The function ‘signif’ was passed through the ‘FUN_ARG’ argument and the argument ‘digits = 3’ was passed through the ellipses ‘. . .’ argument.
  3. All the values for B were transformed based on the script in the ‘Percent_Divided’ function


Using functions as argument is mostly for saving time when developing a code. Even though this seems complicated this is actually rudimentary programming.

1 thought on “Developing Functions in R Part III: Using Functions as Arguments

  1. Pingback: Developing Functions in R Part III: Using Funct...

Leave a Reply