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I've been trying to understand the notion of recursion in TeX - not easy given that my background is the high-level stuff in LaTeX. The only examples I can (just about) understand are very basic for-loop constructions, but I don't really feel like I have a picture for what expansion is or how it works.

I'd like to write a function that will take as its argument a group


where n can take any positive-integer value, and return the pair of groups


when n is at least 2, and {#1} otherwise.

This seems like it should be reasonably simple to do, but I don't know how I'd go about it.

edit: I want to use this function in beamer to progressively overlay lines inside AMSMath environments such that

  • Vertical spacing is preserved;
  • Equation numbering (where applicable) appears in-time with the displayed lines of the equation array, and is preserved (i.e. not incremented) between overlays.
share|improve this question
Where does the recursion come in? – Joseph Wright Apr 20 '11 at 17:48
@joseph, I've edited the question to include some context. I initially had it in there, but must have edited the question after I decided what tags it should have. – Nick Loughlin Apr 20 '11 at 19:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted


Requires e-TeX, so you must process the example with pdftex, xetex, or luatex (not Knuth's tex). The test \if\relax\detokenize{#2}\relax is true when #2 is empty (that is, when there is only one element in the list you pass to \splitarg) and e-TeX finds nothing in the "true" part; otherwise e-TeX braces what remains in the original list.

share|improve this answer
Would be more or less my approach too: the test is doable without e-TeX, but why tie one hand behind your back :-) – Joseph Wright Apr 20 '11 at 18:16
"you must process the example with pdftex" Works fine with xetex. – morbusg Apr 20 '11 at 18:27
@morbusg: I meant "pdftex" as opposed to "tex", but you're right. – egreg Apr 20 '11 at 19:22
@Joseph: my opinion is the same; this test is more robust and expandable, without the need of taking into account many possibilities as it would be the case with original TeX. – egreg Apr 20 '11 at 19:25

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