# Difference between \big[ and \bigl[

What is the difference between \big[ (or equivalently \big() and \bigl[? Is it always necessary to mention l (left) and r (right)?

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\bigl declares an opening math delimiter with less horizontal spacing than the unspecified \big. \bigr defines a closing math delimiter. Using a \bigl and \bigr pair you could get the brackets or parentheses closer to the term within.

Just compare:

\documentclass{article}
\begin{document}
$\bigl[ \times \bigr]$

$\big[ \times \big]$
\end{document}


Output:

The definitions in latex.ltx are:

\def\bigl{\mathopen\big}
\def\bigm{\mathrel\big}
\def\bigr{\mathclose\big}

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Is there a way to make this distinction without specifying a larger size? –  Mark Meckes Aug 6 '10 at 17:30
For normal brackets it's automatically done. Compare $[ \times ]$ to $\mathord[ \times \mathord]$. –  Stefan Kottwitz Aug 6 '10 at 17:48
What you're saying is that [ is automatically interpreted as an opening math delimiter, so one must manually force it not to be, if desired; is that right? –  Mark Meckes Aug 6 '10 at 19:18
That's true. fontmath.ltx defines: \DeclareMathDelimiter{[}{\mathopen} {operators}{"5B}{largesymbols}{"02} –  Stefan Kottwitz Aug 6 '10 at 19:45
thank you. I should have a look at latex.ltx more often –  pluton Aug 8 '10 at 3:22

You can see the difference in the following example. The left modifiers \bigl etc. are basically \mathopen{}\big. You also have to use \mathopen if you are using \left and \right to do automatic scaling to get correct spacing in some cases.

\documentclass{article}
\usepackage{amsmath}

\begin{document}

\begin{align}
x &= \sin\biggl(\frac12\biggr)          \\ % good
x &= \sin\mathopen{}\bigg(\frac12\bigg) \\ % good
x &= \sin\bigg(\frac12\bigg)            \\ % bad
x &= \sin\left(\frac12\right)           \\ % bad
x &= \sin\mathopen{}\left(\frac12\right)   % good
\end{align}

\end{document}

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