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Is plus0pt and minus0pt automatically added if I write, e.g.,

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Only if TeX expects a glue. Lengths with skip in the name are always glues (unless the programmer is a bit crazy). But there are some other length "variables". For example \hsize accepts a ⟨dimen⟩, for example \hsize 4in. There the plus and minus do not apply. Charles has shown the example of \hbox that accepts a ⟨dimen⟩ as well.

See chapter 24 of the TeXbook for a complete definition.

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Semantically, yes, but not syntactically: \hbox to 10pt doesn't expand to \hbox to 10pt plus 0pt minus 0pt.

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Well, \hbox doesn't expand at all. But note that you can use a skip register to specify a dimension. The plus and minus parts are simply ignored: `\skip0 2cm plus 5cm minus 2cm \hbox to\skip0{This works, but is overfull.}' – TH. Sep 23 '10 at 0:34
@TH.: Right, and good point about casting skips to dimens. I could make this answer more precise, but Patrick's answer covers the ground. I'd have deleted it for being redundant, but his answer refers to this one. – Charles Stewart Sep 23 '10 at 6:00

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