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Experimenting with macro definitions that use strange delimiters (see e.g. this or this question), I thought it would be fun to have a macro that takes an argument of the form "a/b" and turns this into a fraction.

This is achieved by

\def\myfrac#1/#2 {\frac{#1}{#2}}

which scans everything before the slash into #1 and everything following the slash until next space into #2. Hence,

$\myfrac 72/31 $
$\myfrac 7/13 34\times\pi$


compiled code

as desired. But -- unsurprisingly --

$\myfrac 72/31$

gives a **! Missing } inserted.** error, as -- of course -- the delimiting space is missing. To circumvent this, I wanted to define

\def\myfrac#1${\@myfrac#1 }
\def\@myfrac#1/#2 {\frac{#1}{#2}}

i.e. scan everything up to the next $, add a space to the end and then pass it to the other macro. This, however, results in ! Missing $ inserted.

Note, however, that it works with a "normal" delimiter:


\def\myfrac#1x{\@myfrac#1 }
\def\@myfrac#1/#2 {\frac{#1}{#2}}

$\myfrac 72/31x$ $\myfrac 3/15 x$
$\myfrac 7/13 34\times\pi x$


compiled output

as expected. So is there a way to replace x in the above code with $?

share|improve this question
This is because the <argument> text gobbles everything, including the $, which is never replaced. Use \def\myfrac#1${\@myfrac#1 $}. – Werner Aug 13 '13 at 18:50
By the way, siunitx offers with the option quotient-mode=fraction the same: \num[quotient-mode=fraction]{72/31} – Qrrbrbirlbel Aug 14 '13 at 20:07
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Since this is just for experimenting, here it is:

\def\myfrac#1${\@myfrac#1 $}
\def\@myfrac#1/#2 #3${\frac{#1}{#2}#3$}
$\myfrac 72/31$ $\myfrac 3/15$ $\myfrac 7/13 34\times\pi$

enter image description here

The “parameter text” is removed from the input stream and substituted with the replacement text, so the closing $ must be reinserted at the end.

The $ in the replacement text of \myfrac and in the parameter text of \@myfrac can be any token that's not expected to be in the formula, so also \@nil could be used; but using $ is just as safe.

Don't use delimited arguments in LaTeX at the user level.

share|improve this answer

Your actual problem is that you are falling afoul of the issue discussed (ironically, this week) in Is \def sensitive to spacing?. Don't put a space after #2 and you will be fine. The reason your second workaround works is that you insert the space explicitly in \@myfrac. The reason your first workaround doesn't work is that you remove the $ as part of macro expansion (it's absorbed as part of the arguments) but don't put it back, so TeX is quite right that it's missing.

share|improve this answer
Well the space is there to act as "second delimiter" so that something like \myfrac 7/13 is set as \frac{7}{13} and not \frac{7}{1}3. The point of the "exercise" was to use two alternative delimiters (either a space or a $), so the space is desired. – Jonathan Aug 14 '13 at 22:45
Perhaps you want a second delimiter that you don't implicitly consider to be discardable text, then. This will free you from having to gobble to the end of the math group, too. – Ryan Reich Aug 14 '13 at 23:01

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