As I prefer outer parentheses to grow larger in nested expressions, I happen to insert \bigl and \bigr and its larger cousins a lot. I have always wondered whether there is a way to do this automagically.

Inserting \left and \right prophylacticly before all opening and closing parentheses and hoping that it sorts things out doesn't do the trick in all cases as seen below.

The left column is without any size changing commands. The middle column as a \left \right pair at every parentheses/brace/bracket and the rightmost column shows my preferred version.


As seen in the middle column of the second and third line the \left and \right pair sometimes makes the outer parentheses larger, on the cost of an extra horizontal space between \Pr and (. The extra space is fine in case of really big opening parentheses but here I'd prefer the regular spacing.

&\Pr(X_{(1)}\le x)&&\Pr\left(X_{(1)}\le x\right)&&\Pr\bigl(X_{(1)}\le x\bigr)\\
&\left(\pi-\arccos(\frac{y}{r})\right)&&(\pi-\arccos\left(\frac{y}{r}\right))&&\left(\pi-\arccos \left(\frac{y}{r}\right)\right)

As mathematical expressions can be arbitrarly complex there is probably no general way to do this. But I’m not asking for a solution of the general case. A partial solution that works in the simple cases shown above would be a big help. The simple rule could be, that parentheses never shrink below the size of an inner pair. Of course you can immediately think of extensions like a \mid in a conditional expectation that grows with the size of the expectation’s brackets.

What is your preference regarding the size of nested parentheses? Is there a better way to archieve your preferred style despite inserting \bigl \bigr manually?


A colleague pointed me to section 8.3 of Herbert Voß’ mathmode document where size problems with parentheses are solved by playing with two TeX parameters within a group around the expression in question. This led naturally to appendix G of the TeXbook where the mechanics of \delimitershortfall and \delimiterfactor are explained.

\delimitershortfall specifies the maximum space not covered by a delimiter (default 5pt) and \delimiterfactor is the ratio for variable delimiters, times 1000 (default 901).

I used them to implement the never shrink below a subformular size idea from above by setting the shortfall to 0pt and the ratio to 1.0.


While it works nicely in line one and three, in line two and four the parentheses now grow too much, and still there is the extra horizontal space introduced by \left.

  • 1
    I tend to use square brackets when this is causing a problem. In general I use left and right most of the time and let the equations be as wide as they need to be. Is there a particular reason that it bothers you?
    – qubyte
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 12:18
  • 1
    @Mark In words like Schifffahrt a sequence of the same letter looks strange. I think it is the same with a sequence of same size parentheses (((. Of course I could use [{( but I find the variation in the size nicer to look at.
    – uli
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 12:27
  • 1
    Journals tend to recommend mixing the parentheses to save some space. Also one should be a bit careful about the sizes. Sometimes there is no need to use huge parentheses around a long equation, if the large part is in the middle and it is not large (above/below) at the ends. I tend to recommend users to scale such that it is clear what is being fenced in, but also such that the parentheses do not dominate the expression.
    – daleif
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 12:48
  • 1
    @mbork: Maybe I don't quite understand what you mean, but isn't the \left...\right mechanism from the TeX core already a two-pass system? At the opening \left, TeX doesn't know yet what size the delimiter should have. Moreover, nesting \left...\right also works. Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 7:42
  • 1
    @l-spice Your question is not foolish, indeed there is a '\left \right'-pair missing.
    – uli
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 7:25

5 Answers 5


The nath package with \delimgrowth=1 is very close to your preferred style.


     1 - (1-F(x))^n \\
     \Pr(X_{(1)} \le x) \\
     \mathbb{E}[\min\{X_1, X_2\} ] \\
     ( \pi - \arccos (\frac {y}{r}) )

enter image description here

Read the nath guide for details, especially the part about incompatibility with amsmath.

  • @Herbert, Aditya if I could only accept both answers. But as I have to choose... I love the nath solution for its easier to read latex source, nothing is cluttered with \left and \right.
    – uli
    Commented Dec 3, 2011 at 20:59
  • 1
    Does it work in the beamer class? (asking because it crashed my beamer, could be an incompatibility with another package though) Thanks.
    – PatrickT
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 22:20

Use it this way with a small negative space between two large parentheses:

\left(\pi-\arccos \left(\frac{y}{r}\right)\right)\\
\left(\pi-\arccos \left(\frac{y}{r}\right)\!\right)

enter image description here

here is an idea how it can be done with a double (( and/or )). It is also possible to use \left((...( and a \right))...). only the number of \left and \right parentheses must correspond to each other


\left(\pi-\arccos \left(\frac{y}{r}\right)\right)\\
\left(\pi-\arccos \left(\frac{y}{r}\right))\\
\left((\pi-\arccos \left(\frac{y}{r}\right)))\\
\left(\left(x + \frac12\right)\arccos(\pi)\right)\\
\left((x + \frac12\right)\arccos(\pi)\right)

enter image description here

  • Can you think of a way to automate this? Do you think \mathinner could somehow be helpful here?
    – morbusg
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 11:55
  • @morbusg: I edited my answer
    – user2478
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 19:52
  • Yeah, I noticed (and your reply to the \mathinner as well; thanks for that!), very nice! (+1)
    – morbusg
    Commented Nov 27, 2011 at 19:57

You can do this without using external packages, which can simplify things a bit if the solution needs to work e.g. in KaTeX. You can define your own "growing parenthesis" command by using invisibe subscripts around the parenthesis' contents:

\newcommand{\paren}[1]{\mathopen{}\left( {#1}_{{}_{}}\,\negthickspace\right)\mathclose{}}
\newcommand{\bracket}[1]{\mathopen{}\left[ {#1}_{{}_{}}\,\negthickspace\right]\mathclose{}}

Which gets you exactly the look you want when used at the right places (middle column was modified):

&\Pr(X_{(1)}\le x)&&\Pr\left(X_{(1)}\le x\right)&&\Pr\bigl(X_{(1)}\le x\bigr)\\
&\left(\pi-\arccos(\frac{y}{r})\right)&&\left(\pi-\arccos\left(\frac{y}{r}\right)\right)&&\left(\pi-\arccos \left(\frac{y}{r}\right)\right)
\[ \paren{\paren{\paren{\paren{\paren{}}}}} \]
\[ \bracket{\bracket{\bracket{\bracket{\bracket{}}}}} \]


  • In my case there are a problem with fractions and \paren when is added an exponent.
    – juanuni
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 18:05

My current solution is to use the mathtools macro \DeclarePairedDelimiter

e.g. \DeclarePairedDelimiter\brac{(}{)} allows me to use \brac*{stuff} for autoexpanding brackets. This probably is preferable to nath with extremely large documents (the readme for nath suggests that it takes up to 3 times the compile time!)

Of course it's somewhat annoying to have to star the command every time, so you can swap the behavior, detailed here: Easily change behavior of \DeclarePairedDelimiter

Also, nath is notorious for being incompatable with almost all math related packages, so it's not actually useful at all.


What I do is declaring a parenthis-function that uses \vphantom with \raisebox to add extra height to the outer delimiter.

The solution is not pretty:

  • I use \mathop because else \vphantom does not work and then add negative space to counter the extra space that \mathop adds.

  • Also inside \raisebox you need to use \( \) to get into mathmode and \displaystyle to get the right virtual height

But it works for me and you can still tweak \delimtershortfall and \delimiterfactor to your liking (if you then also adjust the raise in \raisebox). Also you can change the value in \raisebox to adjust the growth of the delimiters.


    { \left( #1 \right) 
        \mskip-1.5mu \vphantom{ \mathop{
           \raisebox{3pt}{ \(\left(\displaystyle #1 \right)\) } } }

    \braced{ x + \braced{\braced{ y }} }


  • is it bad behavior that i postet this exact same answer under another question that i regard a pulicate of this one?
    – S. Kohl
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 7:31

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