I tried to define \th to put the letters "th" in superscript for ordinal numbers. LaTeX tells me that \th is already defined. How is it defined? Would it be really bad to redefine it?

  • 4
    Not as bad as using superscript "th" if you can avoid it.
    – jon
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 2:30
  • gonzalo has given the true answer. i just want to draw your attention to the definition of \nth in the tugboat macros (documentation here). this provides appropriate english ordinal indicators for numbers up to greater than 100. Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 15:01
  • @jon I agree, but my coauthor Iikes superscripts. Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 22:30

1 Answer 1


If you run






you get

enter image description here

\th is defined in the kernel as


and produces the thorn (a letter in the Old English, Gothic, Old Norse and modern Icelandic alphabets, as well as some dialects of Middle English.)

Yes, it's in general a bad idea to redefine an already defined macro and even more a kernel one (with the possible exception, in some cases, that you know exactly what you are doing and why you are doing it); that's why \newcommand (unlike \def) checks to see first if the command is already defined. I'd suggest you to choose another name for your command (\Th, for example).

If you, however, insist on redefining \th (let's say you consider that you won't need the thorn and you are sure that your redefinition won't have undesired effects beyond suppressing access to the thorn), at least I'd suggest you to save the original definition first:

\renewcommand\th{<your definition>}

In your particular case, place "th" for ordinals, you could use the fmtcount package:



\ordinalnum{3}, \ordinalnum{4}


enter image description here

  • Thanks! One question though: Why do you use \let, but \renewcommand? Wouldn't \newcommand and \renewcommand be a more consistent combination? Would \let throw an error for an already-defined command? Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 1:16
  • 1
    @dejongbrent You are welcome! Regarding your question, \let and \newcommand are essentially different. \let, as I used it in my example, makes a copy of a command; \newcommand defines a command. Those are different actions. In my code I made \oldth be a copy of \th; and then redefine \th; in this way, \oldth is still the thorn and \th will be whatever you had redefined it to be. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 1:48
  • @dejongbrent In this concrete case I could've used \newcommand\oldth{\th}, but \let is more general. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 1:52

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