However, we cannot do the same with the predicate. That is, the following expression
As a result, second-order logic has much more “expressive power” than first-order logic does. For example, there is no way in first-order logic to identify the set of all cubes and tetrahedrons. But the existence of this set can be asserted in second-order logic as
We can then assert properties of this set. For instance, the following says that the set of all cubes and tetrahedrons does not contain any dodecahedrons:
Each of the variables just defined may be universally and/or existentially quantified over, to build up formulas. Thus there are many kinds of quantifiers, two for each sort of variables. A sentence in second-order logic, as in first-order logic, is a well-formed formula with no free variables (of any sort).
Just as in first-order logic, second-order logic may include non-logical symbols in a particular second-order language. These are restricted, however, in that all terms that they form must be either first-order terms (which can be substituted for a first-order variable) or second-order terms (which can be substituted for a second-order variable of an appropriate sort).
In standard semantics, also called full semantics, the quantifiers range over all sets or functions of the appropriate sort. Thus once the domain of the first-order variables is established, the meaning of the remaining quantifiers is fixed. It is these semantics that give second-order logic its expressive power, and they will be assumed for the remainder of this article.
There are more extreme examples showing that second-order logic with standard semantics is more expressive than first-order logic. There is a finite second-order theory whose only model is the real numbers if the continuum hypothesis holds and that has no model if the continuum hypothesis does not hold (cf. Shapiro 2000, p. 105). This theory consists of a finite theory characterizing the real numbers as a complete Archimedean ordered field plus an axiom saying that the domain is of the first uncountable cardinality. This example illustrates that the question of whether a sentence in second-order logic is consistent is extremely subtle.
Additional limitations of second-order logic are described in the next section.
As mentioned above, Henkin proved that the standard deductive system for first-order logic is sound, complete, and effective for second-order logic with Henkin semantics, and the deductive system with comprehension and choice principles is sound, complete, and effective for Henkin semantics using only models that satisfy these principles.
This identification leads to the following characterizations of variants of second-order logic over finite structures: