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The query languages used in relational database systems are a special class of programming languages. The majority, based on first-order logic, lend themselves to analysis using formal methods. Fhst, we provide a definition of relational query languages and their expressive power. We prove some general results and show that only a proper subset of first-order logic formulas may be used as a practical query language. We characterize this subset in both semantic and syntactic terms. We thendoi:10.1145/582153.582190 dblp:conf/popl/Cooper82 fatcat:onftmtsrpfgl3l6has3n7ieibm