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alignedat has a mandatory argument. But Herbert (in his mathmode.pdf) wrote as follows,

enter image description here

I have made a trial and error, I noticed that the largest number that can be passed is 1073741823 and no failure occurs.

    \item The degree of (C) is 3.
    \item The degree of (A) is 1.
                  &&=\rlap{$-3x^2-3x-2x^2+2x+v$} \\
              &   &&\hphantom{{}={}}{+}4x^2&&-12x-4\\
              &   &&=-3x^2 &&-3x-2x^2+2x+v \\
              &   &&       &&+4x^2-12x-4 \\
              &   &&=\rlap{$-x^2-13x-4$}

My question: What is this argument for? Why is it mandatory if it is not necessary? It should be an optional argument, I think.

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The mbox file format strikes again! – Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Jan 31 '13 at 4:35
It stores the value in \maxfields@ and is used avoid using more than the specified number of alignment points. So, of course, using a large number would have no impact. – Werner Jan 31 '13 at 4:41
... (continuing from Werner's comment) - indeed, you'll get errors if you use a value that is too small... – cmhughes Jan 31 '13 at 4:56
...it also relates to a shared "base function" \start@aligned. It is shared between aligned and alignedat; the mandatory argument distinguishes a specific use of the base function. – Werner Jan 31 '13 at 5:21
It's mandatory because you want to use it for alignments you build the intercolumn spaces of and you want to be in control of what you're doing. If Herbert Voß has different opinions about this, they're just opinions: mine is that users should specify precisely what they want or use align. In any case, keep in mind that amsmath descends from AMS-TeX, where the argument to \alignedat was necessary. – egreg Jan 31 '13 at 8:04
up vote 15 down vote accepted

The definitions of the "align" environments are


The first argument to \start@align (which has three of them) is a number telling what type of alignment is desired, with respect to the intercolumn spaces; the second declares what \ifst@rred should mean (the *-variants, of course, have \st@rredtrue) and the third is the number of column groups, which is -1 for align and flalign that haven't a predefined number of them. In the case of alignat, the third argument is the (apparent) argument to \begin{alignat} (and the same for xalignat and xxalignat).

The number of columns (if set) is important for the later measurements for accommodating the equation numbers.

One could argue that the argument to \begin{alignat} is not really necessary, but since one uses the environment for stating explicitly what the spacing between (groups of two) columns is, the number is useful for making users certain about where they are and if no \\ has been forgotten. Maybe the argument could have been made optional, but amsmath is a direct descendant of AMS-TeX, where optional arguments weren't used; so the syntax has been preserved and I see good uses of it.

Since alignedat is the "inner" version of alignat it must have the same syntax. And the same considerations about its usefulness apply as well.

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Well I came across a reason to not use a large number for the mandatory parameter, and instead to specify exactly the precise number: so that an error message is issued if one accidentally forgets a trailing \\ at the end of a line. Using a large number will not result in an error message:

enter image description here


  • Now that I reread the comments, I think that this what Werner and cmhughes were getting at in their comments, but didn't understand that until I actually encountered this problem just now.

  • The example below uses alignat*, but alignedat exhibits similar issues.



This will flag an error \verb|Package amsmath Error: Extra & on this line| if the double backslash is missing:
    v_5 &= v_4 - v_3 +1 &&= 1 - 3 +1 &&= 1, \\
    v_6 &= v_5 - v_4 +1 &&= 1 - 1 +1 &&= 0,
But if a large number is used \LaTeX will happily typeset it without warning:
    v_5 &= v_4 - v_3 +1 &&= 1 - 3 +1 &&= 1, 
    v_6 &= v_5 - v_4 +1 &&= 1 - 1 +1 &&= 0,
share|improve this answer

Short answer: the argument must be -1. (But one should take my answer with a grain of salt, since “user’s” docs are completely missing, the “developer’s” docs do not match the code, and the code is incomprehensible.)

Long answer: First, there is a variant of align with a micro-fool-proofing:

  • the environment xalignat takes a required argument;
  • when it is -1, this environment is equivalent to align;
  • when it is positive, there is a check for a number of equation-groups — with a warning when one puts too many &’s on a row.

Note 1: I cannot imagine a situation when this is useful — unless the argument is 1 (the most common case of using align, I presume: with 1 equation group with 2 horizontal parts: 1st flushed right, 2nd left).

Note 2: in the code, I can see that argument -1 may have some other side effects (pre-setting alignsep@ — but is not it overwritten later?) which I do not completely grok.

Second, return to alignat. It is a minor variant of xalignat; it is differs only when the number of equation-groups is larger than 1 (so the check above is purposeless), but it has no shortcut with the argument set to -1. Now, this leads to the “short answer” above.

A very long answer: one should first think what is the intended purpose of this environment. My conjecture is that it achieves a very important function, one that many want to do, and which is not achievable by any other mean; however, being undocumented, this function is fully forgotten.

Example: make an analogue of align, but with aligned +’s and =’s in

         a  +  b   = ccc + ddd + y    (23.11)
   x + aaa  +  bbb =   c + d          (23.12)
            ↑            ⇑

In short, one should

  • align +’s (marked with arrows) and =’s, while
  • flushing right what is to the left of a marked plus, and
  • flushing left what is to the right of a marked plus.

Note: for best result, one should better also allow for the “signs above one arrow” to be different (e.g., × vs ·); then one would need to center signs above arrows. However, AFAIK, this is not achievable (only flushing left/right is supported).

And, at least if I read developer’s docs in amsmath.dtx correct, this is exactly what aligneat{-1} allows one to do! Unfortunately, I cannot see how the docs match the code, so cannot be absolutely sure.

As an experiment shows, this works:

          a  & + {}&&   b  && = {}& ccc & + ddd + y \\
    x + aaa  & + {}&&  bbb && = {}& c   & + d        

Below, I appended 1 + to some +’s and =’s to show that this “column” is flushed left:

          a  &   +   {}&&   b  && = 1 + {}& ccc & + ddd + y \\
    x + aaa  & + 1 + {}&&  bbb &&   =   {}& c   & + d        

It flushes the odd columns (delimited with &) right, and even ones left; so we need to insert empty columns to convert the wanted format

  R c L c R c L
  1 + 2 = 2 + 1

(with + and = signs centered) to a possible one

  R Ł r L r Ł R L
  1 +   2   = 2 +1

Here Ł is where we flush left what is better be centered, and r stands for an empty column (one between a pair &&). (Note that one needs to insert {} at right end after a binary operator. Such {} is inserted automatically at the left end of flushed-left columns, which gives an asymmetry of the code above.)

Note: IMO, the align-like group of environments tries to address too many task without a proper orthogonality. For example, a clone of alignat could be a killer environment, if it allowed some “columns” to be centered, and some columns to be expandable (as a gap after even “columns” of align).

For example, if alignRCL would align columns in a pattern RCLRCLRCL…, then one could have gather by putting content in the second column, one could have alignat by putting content in columns 1,3,4,6,7,9,…. Additionally, one could have an extra macro \nogap to allow having expandable gaps after L-columns (as in align), which are suppressed by this macro. This way, one could combine all effects of align, alignat and gather into one flexible environment… — And, I suspect, there is a chance that this is an edit of a handful of LoC!

What for? Imagine a group of equalities, with several equalities per line, arranged in a grid (as in align); but some of the columns need to be gathered, some require multi-spot alignment (as my example above), and some are just a simple align-able stuff.

Want yet more cockroaches? What I discuss above is about a flavor of align; but the initial question was about a flavor of aligned — and my answer is WRONG for alignedat! In alignedat{-1} (as opposed to alignat{-1}) the argument -1 has side-effect mentioned above — so it behaves similar to aligned.

Conclusion: with alignedat, one should use some meaninglessly large argument (like 999) instead of -1. However, note that alignedat has very few advantages over matrix with format rlrlrlrlrlrlrl: it typesets every cell in displaystyle with zero mathsurround and a strut, and this is probably 99% of what it does…


Extra question: does anybody knows what split inside align (or gather) is supposed to achieve?

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I see no difference in output when your \begin{alignat}{-1} is replaced by \begin{alignat}{4}. You just lose the check, it seems. Which is not good, in my opinion. – egreg Jun 29 '15 at 7:32
This is exactly my point — there is no difference in the output. And the check is only good if people may remember WHAT is it checking. And I suspect that one cannot explain it in 100 words… – Ilya Zakharevich Jun 29 '15 at 7:44

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