Definability with Bounded Number of Bound Variables
Immerman, Neil; Kozen, Dexter
A theory satisfies the $k$-variable-property if every first-order formula is equivalent to a formula with at most $k$ bound variables (possibly reused). Gabbay has shown that a fixed time structure satisfies the $k$-variable property for some $k$ if and only if there exists a finite basis for the temporal connectives over that structure. We give a model-theoretic method for establishing the $k$-variable property, involving a restricted Ehrenfeucht-Fraisse game in which each player has only $k$ pebbles. We use the method to unify and simplify results in the literature for linear orders. We also establish new $k$-variable properties for various theories of bounded-degree trees, and in each case obtain tight upper and lower bounds on $k$. This gives the first finite basis theorems for branching-time models.
computer science; technical report
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