In ConTeXt one can change the catcodes such that (almost) all the special characters print themselves in text mode, while some of them keep their original meaning in math mode (e.g. _ and ^). The corresponding command is \asciimode.


#$%&^_|~  %% these are disabled

\ { }     %% these remain enabled


My question is, what would be the side effects in standard LaTeX if there was such a thing, or more specifically, are there macros in standard LaTeX which assume a certain catcode regime?

This question is partly inspired by Aditya's nice blog post Some thoughts on lowering the learning curve for using TeX.

  • Note that the catcode being used here is not 'letter' but 'other'. Also, do you want to limit the question to LuaTeX or are other engines also involved?
    – Joseph Wright
    Dec 19, 2016 at 17:52
  • if you just do that for the body of a document then mostly things should work as you expect and it often makes sense to do that, for example if you have text with a lot of percentage values and no tex comments making % a normal character often makes sense. Dec 19, 2016 at 18:31
  • @JosephWright I am not sure to what extent the formats differ but I am targeting more towards a user perspective, i.e. would catcode changing commands like \verb still work as they are expected to? Dec 19, 2016 at 18:31
  • 2
    @HenriMenke yes the issues are mostly around external files, for example if % is not special you can go \label{ab%c} which means that you need % to be not special when the .aux file is read, which means that you need to make sure no package writes tex comments to the aux file.... Dec 19, 2016 at 18:34
  • 1
    @egreg In ConTeXt's ASCII mode %% is a comment: needs LuaTeX magic. That's why I asked about the target engine ...
    – Joseph Wright
    Dec 19, 2016 at 20:11

1 Answer 1


You can of course vary the details of exactly what is redefined, and when but

enter image description here







one # $ & ^ _ ~ two


aaa \tablesep bbb \\
1 \tablesep 2

\verb| \{^} |


  • IIRC, ConTeXt changes the catcodes in math mode (using everymath, I believe). So, ^ and _ work in math mode.
    – Aditya
    Dec 21, 2016 at 1:03
  • @Aditya well that's easy enough to do as well of course (I wouldn't change catcodes though it wouldn't work inside macros, but simply make ^ be active and let to a ^ in text and \sp in math Dec 21, 2016 at 1:16
  • ConTeXt goes out of the way to avoid active characters. I don't understand the TeX internals well enough, but I remember that lot of the "bugs" reported in the context mailing list in pdftex days (related to utf encoding) were due to active characters.
    – Aditya
    Dec 21, 2016 at 23:33

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