graphics (version 3.6.2)

hist: Histograms


The generic function hist computes a histogram of the given data values. If plot = TRUE, the resulting object of class "histogram" is plotted by plot.histogram, before it is returned.


hist(x, …)

# S3 method for default hist(x, breaks = "Sturges", freq = NULL, probability = !freq, include.lowest = TRUE, right = TRUE, density = NULL, angle = 45, col = NULL, border = NULL, main = paste("Histogram of" , xname), xlim = range(breaks), ylim = NULL, xlab = xname, ylab, axes = TRUE, plot = TRUE, labels = FALSE, nclass = NULL, warn.unused = TRUE, …)



a vector of values for which the histogram is desired.


one of:

  • a vector giving the breakpoints between histogram cells,

  • a function to compute the vector of breakpoints,

  • a single number giving the number of cells for the histogram,

  • a character string naming an algorithm to compute the number of cells (see ‘Details’),

  • a function to compute the number of cells.

In the last three cases the number is a suggestion only; as the breakpoints will be set to pretty values, the number is limited to 1e6 (with a warning if it was larger). If breaks is a function, the x vector is supplied to it as the only argument (and the number of breaks is only limited by the amount of available memory).


logical; if TRUE, the histogram graphic is a representation of frequencies, the counts component of the result; if FALSE, probability densities, component density, are plotted (so that the histogram has a total area of one). Defaults to TRUE if and only if breaks are equidistant (and probability is not specified).


an alias for !freq, for S compatibility.


logical; if TRUE, an x[i] equal to the breaks value will be included in the first (or last, for right = FALSE) bar. This will be ignored (with a warning) unless breaks is a vector.


logical; if TRUE, the histogram cells are right-closed (left open) intervals.


the density of shading lines, in lines per inch. The default value of NULL means that no shading lines are drawn. Non-positive values of density also inhibit the drawing of shading lines.


the slope of shading lines, given as an angle in degrees (counter-clockwise).


a colour to be used to fill the bars. The default of NULL yields unfilled bars.


the color of the border around the bars. The default is to use the standard foreground color.

main, xlab, ylab

main title and axis labels: these arguments to title() get “smart” defaults here, e.g., the default ylab is "Frequency" iff freq is true.

xlim, ylim

the range of x and y values with sensible defaults. Note that xlim is not used to define the histogram (breaks), but only for plotting (when plot = TRUE).


logical. If TRUE (default), axes are draw if the plot is drawn.


logical. If TRUE (default), a histogram is plotted, otherwise a list of breaks and counts is returned. In the latter case, a warning is used if (typically graphical) arguments are specified that only apply to the plot = TRUE case.


logical or character string. Additionally draw labels on top of bars, if not FALSE; see plot.histogram.


numeric (integer). For S(-PLUS) compatibility only, nclass is equivalent to breaks for a scalar or character argument.


logical. If plot = FALSE and warn.unused = TRUE, a warning will be issued when graphical parameters are passed to hist.default().

further arguments and graphical parameters passed to plot.histogram and thence to title and axis (if plot = TRUE).


an object of class "histogram" which is a list with components:


the \(n+1\) cell boundaries (= breaks if that was a vector). These are the nominal breaks, not with the boundary fuzz.


\(n\) integers; for each cell, the number of x[] inside.


values \(\hat f(x_i)\), as estimated density values. If all(diff(breaks) == 1), they are the relative frequencies counts/n and in general satisfy \(\sum_i \hat f(x_i) (b_{i+1}-b_i) = 1\), where \(b_i\) = breaks[i].


the \(n\) cell midpoints.


a character string with the actual x argument name.


logical, indicating if the distances between breaks are all the same.


The definition of histogram differs by source (with country-specific biases). R's default with equi-spaced breaks (also the default) is to plot the counts in the cells defined by breaks. Thus the height of a rectangle is proportional to the number of points falling into the cell, as is the area provided the breaks are equally-spaced.

The default with non-equi-spaced breaks is to give a plot of area one, in which the area of the rectangles is the fraction of the data points falling in the cells.

If right = TRUE (default), the histogram cells are intervals of the form (a, b], i.e., they include their right-hand endpoint, but not their left one, with the exception of the first cell when include.lowest is TRUE.

For right = FALSE, the intervals are of the form [a, b), and include.lowest means ‘include highest’.

A numerical tolerance of \(10^{-7}\) times the median bin size (for more than four bins, otherwise the median is substituted) is applied when counting entries on the edges of bins. This is not included in the reported breaks nor in the calculation of density.

The default for breaks is "Sturges": see nclass.Sturges. Other names for which algorithms are supplied are "Scott" and "FD" / "Freedman-Diaconis" (with corresponding functions nclass.scott and nclass.FD). Case is ignored and partial matching is used. Alternatively, a function can be supplied which will compute the intended number of breaks or the actual breakpoints as a function of x.


Becker, R. A., Chambers, J. M. and Wilks, A. R. (1988) The New S Language. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole.

Venables, W. N. and Ripley. B. D. (2002) Modern Applied Statistics with S. Springer.

See Also

nclass.Sturges, stem, density, truehist in package MASS.

Typical plots with vertical bars are not histograms. Consider barplot or plot(*, type = "h") for such bar plots.


Run this code
op <- par(mfrow = c(2, 2))
utils::str(hist(islands, col = "gray", labels = TRUE))

hist(sqrt(islands), breaks = 12, col = "lightblue", border = "pink")
##-- For non-equidistant breaks, counts should NOT be graphed unscaled:
r <- hist(sqrt(islands), breaks = c(4*0:5, 10*3:5, 70, 100, 140),
          col = "blue1")
text(r$mids, r$density, r$counts, adj = c(.5, -.5), col = "blue3")
sapply(r[2:3], sum)
sum(r$density * diff(r$breaks)) # == 1
lines(r, lty = 3, border = "purple") # -> lines.histogram(*)

require(utils) # for str
str(hist(islands, breaks = 12, plot =  FALSE)) #-> 10 (~= 12) breaks
str(hist(islands, breaks = c(12,20,36,80,200,1000,17000), plot = FALSE))

hist(islands, breaks = c(12,20,36,80,200,1000,17000), freq = TRUE,
     main = "WRONG histogram") # and warning
# }
<!-- % save 2 seconds -->
## Extreme outliers; the "FD" rule would take very large number of 'breaks':
XXL <- c(1:9, c(-1,1)*1e300)
hh <- hist(XXL, "FD") # did not work in R <= 3.4.1; now gives warning
## pretty() determines how many counts are used (platform dependently!):
length(hh$breaks) ## typically 1 million -- though 1e6 was "a suggestion only"
# }
x <- rchisq(100, df = 4)
# }
## Comparing data with a model distribution should be done with qqplot()!
qqplot(x, qchisq(ppoints(x), df = 4)); abline(0, 1, col = 2, lty = 2)

## if you really insist on using hist() ... :
hist(x, freq = FALSE, ylim = c(0, 0.2))
curve(dchisq(x, df = 4), col = 2, lty = 2, lwd = 2, add = TRUE)
# }

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