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As far as I understand, whatever can be done using DeclareMathOperator can also be achieved using newcommand, but not the other way around. If this is the case, what are the circumstances where DeclareMathOperator is the better choice? When should I take solely newcommand?

I found a question regarding arguments and DeclareMathOperator, and I wonder what other aspects should be taken into consideration when it comes to choosing which method to use when defining math operators.

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Run texdoc amsmath and see page 13f. –  Marco Daniel Aug 17 '12 at 8:54
\DeclareMathOperator is a very special case of \newcommand, so the question as it stands is too generic to receive an answer. –  egreg Aug 17 '12 at 9:09
Sort of related: tex.stackexchange.com/q/655/86 I'd go for the "horses for courses" argument: \DeclareMathOperator says what it's going to do and does it, so makes it easier for you to remember 6months later what it was meant for. Also, if you want a consistent look you're going to effectively reimplement \DeclareMathOperator (this \newcommand should produce the same effect as that \newcommand but not the other \newcommand so we'd better have a "helper" macro for this and that but not the other) so why not take advantage of the work others have already done? –  Loop Space Aug 17 '12 at 9:24

2 Answers 2

up vote 48 down vote accepted

\DeclareMathOperator is designed to create commands that should typeset operator names such as sin and lim. Some of these are already defined in base TeX or LaTeX so one writes 2\sin\theta

op sine

instead of 2sin\theta

nop sine

giving correct spacing and font. If you need an operator of this type that is not predefined, then you create it with \DeclareMathOperator, e.g. the space of endomorphisms of a vector space is written \End V

enter image description here

but you need to make the definition \DeclareMathOperator{\End}{End} first: a minimal working example is


\( \End V \)


\newcommand is much more general and can be used to define direct short cuts or more complicated macros. So for example if you find youself writing \left.\frac d{dt}\right|_{t=0} many times in your document you can package this up as a single command \dtzero via \newcommand{\dtzero}{\left.\frac d{dt}\right|_{t=0}} and just type \dtzero each time instead.

I would usually recommend reserving \DeclareMathOperator for the use described above and using \newcommand in most other situations. To get the effect of \DeclareMathOperator in a one-off situation, or inside a \newcommand, you use \operatorname; so you can write \operatorname{End}V for the above example.

Finally, one should note that there is a starred version \DeclareMathOperator*. This is used for defining operators that have limits typeset beneath them instead of to the right (at least when in a display). For example

Sample output

Similarly there is the starred variant \operatorname*.


  \Max_{x\in A} f(x) \qquad  \End_R V 

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Great answer, Andrew! :) By the way, I know you've been here for almost two months now, but I'd like to "officially" welcome you to our community. Make yourself at home! It's very rewarding to have a new TeX friend with us eager to improve knowledge and make this community even better. :) –  Paulo Cereda Aug 17 '12 at 10:58
The answer is good, but the example isn't: \mathbf{\varphi} doesn't print a boldface phi. Either use a latin character (say \mathbf{u}) or \bm{\varphi} (loading the bm package). –  egreg Aug 17 '12 at 12:37
@egreg -- if amsmath is loaded, \boldsymbol{\varphi} works. amsmath also incorporates amsopn so that isn't needed any longer as a separate package. –  barbara beeton Aug 17 '12 at 13:06
@barbarabeeton While \boldsymbol works, the first lines in the documentation of amsbsy say that \bm is preferable to \boldsymbol. :) –  egreg Aug 17 '12 at 15:19
@barbarabeeton: the bm versus boldsymbol issue was tackled in tex.stackexchange.com/q/3238 –  Philippe Goutet Aug 17 '12 at 19:48

I usually use


instead of


However, the second is much practical.

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Nice because it allows to do \renewcommand, and I don't know what is the equivalent for DeclareMathOperator. –  Stéphane Laurent Jan 8 '14 at 10:02

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