# Why does \expandafter not expand the full { } group?

I thought I had understood the principle of expansion ... but apparently not!

\def\a{AAA}
\def\b{BBB}

\expandafter\detokenize\expandafter{\a\b}


I thought that the 2 \expandafter would store \detokenize and {} resp. and then expand \a into AAA and \b into BBB. Therefore after one round of expansion, we would have:

\detokenize{AAABBB}


and thus the output should be simply "AAABBB". But it is not the case. Where is my mistake?

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Question titles must summaries the question. Please avoid titles which would fit 1000 largely different questions. –  Martin Scharrer Jun 9 '12 at 8:58
\expandafter jumps over one token, expands once the following one (if it's expandable, otherwise nothing happens) and vanishes. –  egreg Jun 9 '12 at 9:20
You might be looking for \expandnext from etextools, which in your case could be used as \expandnext\detokenize\a\b. –  dgs Jun 9 '12 at 10:41

\expandafter stores exactly one token. So the expansion order is \expandafter-\expandafter-\a.

After this everything is restored and \detokenize is executed.

This is the reason why you sometimes see crazy successions of \expandafter: To reverse the expansion order of n tokens you basically need 2^n-1 \expandafters. At least you don't need \expandafter before \detokenize because it will initiate expansion looking for its argument.

So

\detokenize\expandafter\expandafter\expandafter{\expandafter\a\b}


gives the expansion order you need: \expandafter-\expandafter-\expandafter-\b. After restoring there is

\detokenize\expandafter{\a BBB}


finally yielding the desired output.

In case your're interested in always fully expanding the contents of {} (whatever they are), you can't (in general). Depending on a concrete context, there may be alternatives. So if this answer is not what you were looking for, please elaborate.

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I've found Stephan Bechtolsheim's TUGboat article to be helpful on this topic, maybe you could include it as a reference showing more examples. (@nicolasroy) –  dgs Jun 9 '12 at 10:43
Thanks for the info. I simply had a wrong understanding of the expansion process. –  nicolas roy Jun 11 '12 at 8:02