I have the following LaTeX code:







and it produces the following PDF:

enter image description here

I want the definition of the item (in this case the "bar" and the "bang") to be on a separate line from the item (eg the "foo" and the "baz").

However this is part of a system that autogenerates documention, so I can't change the source code. I can put style things in the header of each documention, so I need some sort of LaTeX command that will make all definition list (in LaTeX speak, a "descripition list") go onto a new line.

7 Answers 7


You can do that with a \hfill. No extra packages or multiple lines of code are needed :)

enter image description here

  \item[First] \hfill \\ The first item
  \item[Second] \hfill \\ The second item
  \item[Third] \hfill \\ The third etc \ldots

enter image description here

  • 5
    Note that the extra \\ after the \hfill might not be necessary, since \hfill already creates a vertical space. Adding \\ might make the space disproportionately large.
    – xji
    Apr 1, 2017 at 18:32
  • Indeed. It's added in a recent edit. Maybe revert needed.
    – Julian
    Apr 1, 2017 at 22:54
  • 1
    @Julian The doubles backslashes \\ are necessary - try it: with only \ you get the item text in the same line. The edit history is deceiving due to the \\-bug (see tex.meta.stackexchange.com/q/7168/35864)
    – moewe
    Jul 9, 2017 at 17:03
  • 1
    @moewe Now after some testing I realize the reason why the \\ would introduce an extra vertical space in my case is that I immediately started an itemize environment just after the definition. If it's plain text, then \\ would indeed be needed. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I'll just leave this comment here so that people who want to start another environment immediately after the definition could take note. Whoever would review the current edit should just reject it (An edit can't be cancelled after submitted). Thanks.
    – xji
    Jul 9, 2017 at 21:21
  • 2
    The enumitem [style=nextline] solutions are more reliable. With this solution, if the item name's length is exactly so that it fills the whole line, a blank line is inserted. Nov 14, 2019 at 16:07

Will Robertson's answer can affect all the description environments in the entire document. To apply the desired setting to a particular description, you may use [style=nextline] appended to \begin{description}


   \item[foo] bar
   \item[baz] bang

This will apply your style only to that particular description. Other descriptions will work with default behavior.

  • 6
    It is worth noting that this does not work if your key fits within the margins. Excerpt from the enumitem Manual: nextline: if the label does not fit in the margin, the text continues in the next line. I have found this to be less than four characters. \item [Red] This field is mandatory. I assume this is a space-saver mechanism, but I do not think it is aesthetic. I would be interested in suppressing this behavior. Aug 20, 2015 at 15:38

If you are using enumitem, the correct way to set the default style is like this:

  • 1
    I have to say, the enumitem documentation does a poor job of explaining this behaviour: "nextline: if the label does not fit in the margin, the text continues in the next line" I read this and disregarded it because I wanted a line break regardless of the label width. Well, good thing I found your answer, thanks!
    – Christian
    Apr 16, 2014 at 21:18

With this the label of the first level (of description environment) is aligned with the rest of the text and description texts are aligned with labels. I hope this is about what you want.


You could try something like


but a little more massaging is needed with the values of labelindent, etc., to avoid overfull boxes. To first order, however, this gives you the output you're looking for.

  • 7
    this causes overfull hbox errors, you should use style=nextline
    – jterrace
    Sep 8, 2012 at 20:44

Summarizing what others have suggested using the enumitem package, and solving the remaining inconsistency regarding short labels:

%% Uncomment for global behaviour:

    \begin{description}[style=nextline] %% Style for this list only.
        \item[Turquoise] Medium to long labels force the description to the next line.
        \item[Red] Short labels still have the description on the same line.
        \item[Red~~~] To force the description to the next line, pad the label with \textasciitilde.

You do not name the system that autogenerates documention, but if it is Doxygen, the


can go in a supplied preamble and the padding can be added manually surrounded by \latexonly and \endlatexonly:

<dd>Zoom by rolling the scroll wheel (third, or middle mouse button).</dd>
<dt>Pan\latexonly~~~\endlatexonly</dt>  <!-- Force description to next line. -->
<dd>Pan by pressing and holding the scroll wheel.</dd>
  • 1
    I don't see the need for a summary answer here, as all of these are contained in other answers. That's just how this Q&A works.
    – Werner
    Jun 12, 2017 at 21:02
  • It is not all summary, the [Red~~~] part has not been brought up before, addressing the point made by @Jonathan Komar. Later I found that his problem has been answered in another way. Jun 14, 2017 at 7:09

I had issues with style=nextline.

The following technique sets an expected labelwidth of 0pt to ensure that nothing fits in the label, thereby forcing a new line.


See the answer here: How can I force all text to continue to the next line when using style=nextline in description lists with enumitem?

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