I am trying to learn more about macro programming - if that's the right word - in TeX and LaTeX. I began by defining a quantity I called Sum : \newcount\Sum. I then wrote \Sum=0. Then I did some arithmetical operations on Sum, by using \multiply . . . by . . . and \advance . . . by . . ..

Finally I wanted to print out (in the document) the value of Sum. For that I used the line

 The Sum equals **\number**\Sum , 

and it worked as expected ! But later on, I discovered that I might just as well have written

The Sum equals **\the**\Sum ". 

And now I wonder which of the two is the preferred way to write out a numerical value. Are they equivalent ? Or are they intended for different purposes - even if the results overlap in my example ?

Here is an MWE:

%% Here is the example tex-file that illustrates use of \number and \the .   

\usepackage[paperwidth=4in, paperheight=0.8in]{geometry}


\newcount\a  \newcount\b  \newcount\Sum

\a=1   \b=5  \Sum=0
\advance\Sum by \a  \multiply\Sum by \b
\advance\Sum by \a  \multiply\Sum by \b

The Sum equals \number\Sum  \quad;\quad I used ``number''.
\par \vskip 10pt \noindent
The Sum equals \the\Sum     \quad;\quad I used ``the''.

  • Instead of describing the problem, It would be helpful if you composed a fully compilable MWE including \documentclass and the appropriate packages that sets up the problem, and perhaps added the description as comments. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 18:35
  • A related question is why I was not allowed to define variables, or counters, by giving them names such as x1, x2, . . . It seemed as if the names I wanted to use were not allowed to contain numbers -- only letters were allowed. Is there a way around this ?
    – user35145
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 18:39
  • You should ask about this as a separate question. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 18:51
  • Regarding the performance: when followed by \numexpr, \the is faster. tex core - The difference between \the\numexpr and \number\numexpr - TeX - LaTeX Stack Exchange
    – user202729
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 12:15

1 Answer 1


\number and \the are similar on a count register. \the may be applied to more types, such as






Using \number on those cases is either an error or (in the first case) casts the dimen to a number, taking its value is sp units.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .