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Is there ever a case when the use of \begingroup is preferred to \bgroup? Obviously, \bgroup is necessary in cases where you need to have balanced braces and thus cannot use {, but when is it necessary to use \begingroup?

A related question would be: What's the difference between a simple group and a semi-simple group?

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up vote 60 down vote accepted

\bgroup is a synonym for {, which is defined in Plain TeX using \let\bgroup={

It interacts with TeX's "digestive system" in hairy ways: {s and \bgroups start the same sort of groups, called simple groups, and each can be terminated with either }s or \egroups, since they are the same. But when the Tex digestive system encounters them, they are of different catcodes, so commands that look ahead, e.g., in LaTeX with \section\bgroup Title}, can break this matching.

\begingroup is different. It is a Tex primitive, and it matches a different sort of group that TeX accounts for separately, called "semi-simple groups" (a Knuth joke, I assume). Thus a \begingroup must be terminated by an \endgroup, not a }, and vice versa for \endgroup.

I generally avoid \bgroup, and use \begingroup, but \bgroup could be useful if you are messing about with a nested token list.

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\begingroup...\endgroup also behaves differently in math mode, in which {...} or \bgroup...\egroup create a subformulae with different spacing. A good rule of thumb would be to avoid using \bgroup...\egroup unless you know you need them. –  Will Robertson Aug 18 '10 at 10:05
I don't know exactly how they behave so my preference goes this way use {} when it works, otherwise \begingroup \endgroup. –  Leo Liu Aug 18 '10 at 14:15
Will is right: I'd strongly favour \begingroup ... \endgroup. –  Joseph Wright Aug 18 '10 at 18:35
Charles, thanks for the answer. Do you have a reference for the term "semi-simple group"? I can't locate any occurrence of it in the TeXbook... –  Jubobs Nov 21 '13 at 20:32
@Manuel I think that adding some examples would be the right way to communicate the differences. I'll add something in due course. –  Charles Stewart Jun 27 at 10:32
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