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I want to define a couple of variables in a list alongside a equation. Here's my current code

\[ e = m c^2 \]
    \item[e] energy
    \item[m] mass
    \item[c] light speed

This mostly works, but the text doesn't align with the figure, and the font is too big compared to the equation.

Adapting the code from this question mostly works, but I can't use \description and text is interpreted as a formula.

Is there a better way to do this?

marked as duplicate by Andrew Swann, Xavier, Guido, clemens, Thorsten Jun 29 '13 at 12:30

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.


I would use a simple table (environment tabular), then it is easier to control the alignment. Also the line spacing is more compact and can be controlled by redefining \arraystretch.


  \[ e = m c^2 \]
    e & energy\\
    m & mass \\
    c & light speed\\



  • @{} suppresses the \tabcol spacing, here at the left and right side of the table.
  • >{$} and <{$} is a feature of package array that allows to add $s for the first column automatically.
  • The font size is the same as in the formula. If you want to have a smaller font, then you can add \small, for instance.
\documentclass[preview,border=12pt,varwidth]{standalone}% change it to your own document class


   \tabularx{\columnwidth}{>{$}l<{$} @{\ : } >{\raggedright\arraybackslash}X}}

Most people know the formula
E \ne mc^2
 E  &  energy produced by drinking 5 gallons of bear and eating 10 kilograms of sausage (just to show multiline description)\\
 m  &  mass of the food \\
 c  &  speed of light


enter image description here

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