What is the difference between \emph{...} and {\em ...}?

When to use each of them?

up vote 80 down vote accepted

\emph is like e.g. \textit a command with an argument. \em is the "switch" variant, comparable to \itshape. \em is not an outdated TeX or LaTeX2.09 command but a real LaTeX2e command. Actually \emph is defined through em:


\em is useful for long texts (\emph e.g. doesn't allow the argument to contain a \par). The commands differ (like the \textit/\itshape) in their handling of the italic correction:


abc\emph{lll}lll  \textit{lll}llll

abc{\em lll}lll  {\itshape lll}llll

abc{\em lll\/}lll

%\emph{abc\par bc} error

{\em abc\par bc}

output of the above code sample

\emph is a LaTeX2e command and \em is a LaTeX 2.09 declaration, see e.g. http://www.public.asu.edu/~rjansen/latexdoc/emph.html . Since you're probably using LaTeX2e you should use \emph.

  • \emph is a command and is used like \emph{text}.
  • \em is a declaration and is used like \em text or {\em text}.

Their differences may be demonstrated by the following:



some \em text% Works as intended

some {\em text}% Works as intended

some \em{text}% Does not work as intended, "text" is not emphasized

some \emph{text}% Works as intended

some \emph text% Does not work as intended, only "t" of "text" is emphasized


l2tabu (a guide to obsolete commands and packages, available in English and, more up-to-date, in German) comments on \em as follows:

May be useful when defining macros. In continuous text \emph{...} should be preferred to \em.

(Table 1, p. 8 [en] / 10 [de])

From what I understood, em is the TeX command and emph is its LaTeX equivalent. Therefore, you should use the emph when using LaTeX.

  • 3
    \em is a plain tex command, not something defined by the engine. it requires you to write your own italic correction commands, which \emph works out for you. – wasteofspace Aug 17 '11 at 8:52
  • Neither \em nor \emph are defined in plain.tex. – user3143179 Nov 21 '16 at 22:07

In programming, using Doxygen, the following is defined:

\em <word>

Displays the argument <word> in italics. Use this command to emphasize words.

So an example would be:

  \fn          int32_t LED_On (uint32_t num)
  \brief       Turn on a single LED indicated by \em num
  \param[in]   num  LED number
   - \b  0: function succeeded
   - \b -1: function failed

when you run Doxygen on the code (this example is from a .c file) then the word num would appear as num (in italics, could not copy paste it here).

I could not find \emph in the Doxygen command list. So I am not aware of its meaning.

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