I'd like to have a macro to split up another macro content, with field separator being a space. So:

\def\mytext{foo bar}
\def\secondof#1 #2{#2}

What? What do you mean: "runaway argument"? Oh right, I guess \mytext counts as only one argument and you're expecting two. Ok, so


and indeed, the result is "bar", just as I was hoping for.

But alas, then comes something rather surprising:

\def\firstof#1 #2{#1}

"fooar"? You got to be kidding me! How on earth did you—dear and beloved TeX—ever come to such a ridiculous decision? You did so well with the \secondof, after all. What gives?

(just to make this a complete MWE, I'm going to add a \bye here)

1 Answer 1


\firstof foo bar will simply take foo as first argument and b as second one. So the ar is left afterwards and will by typeset as ordinary text. For that reason you got foo + ar = fooar as result.

If you don't want this behaviour, you need to add an end delimiter, \nil or \@nil is often used for that purpose:

\def\firstof#1 #2\nil{#1}

Now #1 will get foo and #2 will get all the rest until \nil, i.e. bar.

  • Ah, an end delimiter, ofcourse! Thanks! But how come the \secondof works as expected?
    – morbusg
    Nov 27, 2011 at 19:53
  • 1
    @morbusg: Change the definition of secondof to \def\secondof#1 #2([[#2]]) and you'll see what is happening.
    – Aditya
    Nov 27, 2011 at 20:03
  • And more importantly, how did the #2 "bleed" into the #1?
    – morbusg
    Nov 27, 2011 at 20:09
  • \secondof did not worked as expected. \expandafter\secondof\mytext gives you only b. The ar is left and will be typeset as ordinary text, so the end result will be b+ar. (The same way \firstof gave you foo + ar = fooar.) Change \secondof to \def\secondof#1 #2{(#2)} and you'll see that only the b will be typeset in parens.
    – user2574
    Nov 27, 2011 at 20:19

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