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Why won't this compile? I suspect the math inside the []s are preventing compilation. If so how do I make this work? Thanks.

\ce{E + S <=> [$k_1$][$k_{-1}$] ES <=>[$k_2$] E + P}


! Missing $ inserted. $ l.34 ...k_1$}][\ce{$k_{-1}$}] ES <=>[$k_2$] E + P} ?

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set it without using math mode: \ce{E + S <=> [k_1][k_{-1}] ES <=>[k_2] E + P} – Herbert Jun 17 '11 at 15:00
Very good, I also discovered the space between <=> and [k_1][... is not allowed. :| Thanks! – ptrcao Jun 17 '11 at 15:09
@Herbert: since you answered first, post your comment as an answer, and I'll delete mine. – Gonzalo Medina Jun 17 '11 at 15:09
A gentleman huh? ;) – ptrcao Jun 17 '11 at 15:11
It also works with \ensuremath{k_1}, if you wish to have math mode for the common italic math font. – Stefan Kottwitz Jun 17 '11 at 15:30

set it without using math mode:

\ce{E + S <=> [k_1][k_{-1}] ES <=>[k_2] E + P}
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The arguments of mhchem's arrows already are in math mode. So wrapping them in $...$ must go wrong.

\ce{A ->[\Delta] B} % default: math mode

If you would want or need text mode you'd have to use \text{} or mhchem's shortcut:

\ce{A ->T[text mode] B} = \ce{A ->[\text{text mode}] B}

Also there is a second shortcut for "chemistry mode", i.e. using the \ce macro:

\ce{A ->C[H2O] B} = \ce{A ->[\ce{H2O}] B}
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