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I would like to redefine the underscore _ to automatically set subscripts in math mode in roman type, as I currently find myself almost always using _\mathrm{}. I can't find a way of redefining what _ does:
\renewcommand_ gives

! Missing control sequence inserted.
<inserted text> 

and \show_ just tells me

subscript character _.

I found a description of how to make _ an active character on Anthony Lieken's website, but that just brings _ and ^ to text mode and does not change the behaviour in math mode.

Question: How do I make _x behave like _\mathrm{x}?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Making _ active was the right idea:

a_{text} $a_{text}$

Thanks to \ensuremath (and to Bruno) this can also be used in text mode. For the "old" _ you can then use \sb.

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And to write a normal subscript, you can use \sb. Also, if you write \ensuremath{\sb{\textrm{#1}}}, you have the added benefit of being able to use it in text mode. – Bruno Le Floch Jan 20 '11 at 10:32
@Bruno: Thanks, I'll add that. – Hendrik Vogt Jan 20 '11 at 10:33
Perfect! Thanks, Hendrik and Bruno! – Jake Jan 20 '11 at 10:37
After some testing, I would prefer \mathrm over \textrm: it scales better, for instance when writing $\sum\sb{n=n_{min}}\sp{n_{max}}$. – Bruno Le Floch Jan 20 '11 at 10:44
@Bruno, a late comment: If you load amsmath, then \mathrm and \textrm scale the same, but still, \mathrm is better since it gives the same output in an italic context. – Hendrik Vogt Feb 15 '13 at 16:10



$f_{bar}$ f_x

\[ \int_a^b f(x) \mathrm{d}x \]
\[ \int\sb{a}^b f(x) \mathrm{d}x \]

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Thanks Herbert! Could you explain why you would use \def in this case instead of \newcommand? Am I right in assuming that that's the only difference to Hendrik's/Bruno's answer? – Jake Jan 20 '11 at 11:19
@Jake: a matter of taste ... A personal decision, when working on TeX level I always use \def to make things clear, that it is no LaTeX specific code I am changing. And sometimes I am too lazy for typing long command names ... :-) – Herbert Jan 20 '11 at 11:29

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