By Fagin's Theorem, NP contains precisely those problems that can be described by formulas starting with an existential second-order quantifier, followed by only first-order quantifiers (ESO formulas). Subsequent research refined this result, culminating in powerful theorems that characterize for each possible sequence of first-order quantifiers how difficult the described problem can be. We transfer this line of inquiry to the parameterized setting, where the size of the set quantified by the second-order quantifier is the parameter. Many natural parameterized problems can be described in this way using simple sequences of first-order quantifiers: For the clique or vertex cover problems, two universal first-order quantifiers suffice ("for all pairs of vertices ... must hold"); for the dominating set problem, a universal followed by an existential quantifier suffice ("for all vertices, there is a vertex such that ..."); and so on. We present a complete characterization that states for each possible sequence of first-order quantifiers how high the parameterized complexity of the described problems can be. The uncovered dividing line between quantifier sequences that lead to tractable versus intractable problems is distinct from that known from the classical setting, and it depends on whether the parameter is a lower bound on, an upper bound on, or equal to the size of the quantified set.
|Publication status||Published - 02.10.2023|