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This one looks like a question that should be solved just reading the package manual, but oddly I couldn't solve it neither that way.

I'm using natbib for an author-date bibliography style. I understood the difference between \citet and \citep. But, I can't understand the difference between \citet and the plain \cite.

Are they equal? Should I change all the \cite in \citet? (When I started writing I was using the classical 'Vancouver' style without natbib). Apparently the outputs of \cite and \citet look exactly the same.

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2 Answers 2

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The behavior of \cite{<key>} with natbib depends on the citation format (numerical vs. author-year) of the bibliography style in use. Thus, the results can be inconsistent (if you switch styles) and it's best to convert to \citet and \citep as appropriate.

From natbib (v8.31b) documentation, page 6:

Both \citep and \citet are defined by natbib and are thus not standard. The standard LaTeX command \cite should be avoided, because it behaves like \citet for author-year citations, but like \citep for numerical ones. There are many other commands for other special effects (Section 2.4).

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    I missed that part in the natbib documentation. Thank you very much.
    – Luca
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 19:17
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In terms of writing guidelines I would write:

  • Statement A is true \citep{jon90}. is printed as
    "Statement A is true (Jones et al., 1990)" or
  • Statement A is true as shown by \citet{jon90}. is printed as
    "Statement A is true as shown by Jones et al. (1990)" or
  • Statement A is true according to \citet{jon90}. is printed as
    "Statement A is true according to Jones et al. (1990)" or
  • \citet{jon90} showed that statement A is true. is printed as
    "Jones et al. (1990) showed that statement A is true.".

In these 4 examples it would be grammatically wrong to replace \citet by \citep or vice versa. Depending on the natbib style the citations are printed slightly differently, but as far as I know they are always printed such that \citet and \citep stay grammatically correct independent of the natbib style.

\cite however would be either grammatically wrong for the first of the 4 examples or for the last 3 of the 4 examples depending on the natbib style. (For some natbib style \cite is equivalent to \citet and for some \cite is equivalent to \citep.)

For more examples see https://tug.org/pracjourn/2007-2/garcia/garcia.pdf

For further variations and optional arguments see
https://www.overleaf.com/learn/latex/Natbib_citation_styles or
https://www.reddit.com/r/LaTeX/comments/5g9kn1/whats_the_difference_between_cite_citep_and_citep/, e.g.,
Statement A is true as shown in \citet[Theorem~1]{jon90}. is printed as
"Statement A is true as shown in Jones et al. (1990, Theorem 1)" or

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