What is the correct way to typeset a matrix or vector with subscript/index? Should the index be part of the vector with the

Variant 1:

\vec{x}_i \mat{A}_i %\mat being defined as upright bold

Variant 2:

\vec{x_i} \mat{A_i}

And what about a superscript (like T for transpose)? Let's say \vec{x} is a column vector that I want to show as being transposed. How should the T be typeset? Should it be inside or outside the \vec command?

Variant 1:


Variant 2:


EDIT: This part of the question originally asked, whether ^T is the right way of expressing transposition of a matrix/vector. This is being answered by What is the best symbol for vector/matrix transpose?.


Variant 1:
$\vec{x}_i \mat{A}_i$ 

Variant 2:
$\vec{x_i} \mat{A_i}$

Superscripts: \\
Variant 1:

Variant 2:
  • Partial Duplicate: what is the best symbol for vector matrix transpose Dec 1, 2011 at 15:31
  • 3
    Since it is easy to create a MWE, why don't you just provide one so that those trying to help don't have to recreate it Dec 1, 2011 at 15:34
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    @PeterGrill, so readers will get the essential information and avoid the clutter. I can visualise these (and other) simple Latex code and many other can as well. I find it annoying that some jump to any new question and pressure one to add a MWE. I will add one now. Of course, there is a benefit in having an MWE for people taking time to answer a question even if by answering the question one needs never come near a Latex compiler. Let's conclude by saying that I value the work and opinion of those answering questions and will therefore from now on provide MWEs.
    – Unapiedra
    Dec 1, 2011 at 16:06
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    Thanks, that will help. Just put the MWE at the end so it does not clutter up your text. BTW, even though my rep might make you feel otherwise, I have only been able to answer ONE question properly without compiling. Not everyone works with matrices all day, so it is helpful to see what the code actually produces with a LaTeX compiler. Any time you can save those trying to help is appreciated. There are numerous cases where the question is clear to the OP, but those trying to help go back and forth until a MWE is provided and then things are suddenly clear. Dec 1, 2011 at 16:21
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    @Unapiedra: re: MWE: yeah I actually laughed out loud once when I was asked for a MWE for a plain-format question after I realized that the diff between the original question and the MWE was: \bye! ;-D (don't get me wrong; I really, really appreciate all the help and the general friendliness here, it's just that... you know... \bye! Haha!)
    – morbusg
    Dec 1, 2011 at 17:31

3 Answers 3


An index can be a scalar, or a vector in its own right: compare $\vec{x}_r$ with $\vec{x}_{\vec{r}}$ - these are different mathematical entities! The dimensions of the index may not coincide with the dimensions of the indexed object.

Therefore as a general rule your variant 1 should be preferred: it shows that the quantity is a vector or a matrix with a scalar index (or vector index if appropriate).

Of course some journals and publishers introduce their own "house styles" which may have different recommendations. Sadly enough, sometimes these "house styles" are written without input from the mathematicians, so I can envision a style that requires (mathematically unsound) variant 2.

  • Thank you! Marked as correct answer, as the rational is good, therefore likely to be correct. Your answer is also short, precise and clear!
    – Unapiedra
    Dec 6, 2011 at 11:35

In general, if the \vec and \mat commands are designed to typeset their arguments (vectors and matrices, respectively) in bold characters, it would be rather unusual to include any associated subscripts and superscripts inside the arguments of these commands -- unless the resulting entities are themselves matrices and/or vectors. For instance, if A is a four-dimensional matrix, then \mat{A_{ij}} (with bold-faced i and j) should be used to denote the two-dimensional i,j-th submatrix of A. Put differently, the subscripts and superscripts should always be typeset in the ordinary font unless there's a really good reason to do otherwise.

On your second question: I can think of no reasonable justification for bold-facing the transpose symbol as a function of whether or not the item being transposed is typeset in boldface or not. Thus: don't boldface the transpose symbol unless you are required to do so by some house style.

A subject contained, at least implicitly, in your question: How should one typeset the transpose symbol? Personally, I have no opinion on which single symbol is best -- that's a matter akin to asking whether vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice cream is best. I do have the following recommendation, though: if you have lots of matrix transpose symbols in your document and if there's a chance, at some point in the future, that you'll need to switch from one symbol to another, it should really be worth your time to define a command that denotes the transpose explicitly, and to use this command instead of hardcoding the transpose symbol. Here are some possibilities:

\newcommand{\tran}{^{\mathstrut\scriptscriptstyle{\top}}} % ooh, fancy!

This way, if you ever have to switch from one symbolic notation convention to another --say, because some journal or book style says so -- then you can comply without having to track down and examine every instance of ^T and/or ' to decide whether the symbol stands for a transpose, a terminal point of time (as in \sum_{t=1}^T), a first derivative, or what not. The MWE below illustrates the "look and feel" of various symbol choices for the transpose operator, as well as the use of ordinary vs boldface fonts for subscripts.

Finally, an issue may arise if you have to typeset subscripts of a matrix and a transpose symbol: If the transpose symbol is typeset to the immediate right of the matrix, and therefore above the subscripts to the matrix, your readers may be unsure (at least at first) if the ij subscript pertains to A or to its transpose. Hence, if there's a chance that such confusion may arise, you may help out your readers by not placing the transpose symbol and the matrix's subscripts above one another, as is illustrated in the third example line of the MWE. Remember also that there's no shame in using parentheses occasionally to aid the legibility of a formula... :-)

Subscripts non-bold (normal case):\\
$\vec{b}_i$; $\vec{b}\tran$, $\vec{b}'$, $\vec{b}^T$; 
$\mat{A}_{ij}\tran$, $\mat{A}_{ij}'$, $\mat{A}_{ij}^T$ 

Subscripts bold (needs a good reason):\\    
$\vec{b_i}$, $\mat{A_{ij}}$

Transpose symbol in various possible positions\\
relative to the matrix and its subscripts:\\
$\mat{A}\tran_{ij}$\,: ${\mat{A}\tran}_{ij}$ or ${\mat{A}_{ij}}\tran$?

enter image description here

  • What package is \mat{} in?
    – Jeff
    Apr 26, 2013 at 23:54
  • @Jeff - Not in any package -- the macro's defined in the MWE's preamble as \newcommand{\mat}[1]{\bm{#1}} :-) The point I was trying to make is that it's good practice to define a "high-level" command such as \mat, rather than using a "low-level" command such as \bm directly. That way, if you ever change your mind about how to typeset the symbol for a matrix, you can do so simply by modifying the definition of \mat...
    – Mico
    Apr 27, 2013 at 2:09

If you look at it purely semantically, \vec{x_i} could be something like the i-th vector from a collection of vectors (for example a generating set), while \vec{x}_i would more likely mean the i-th element of the vector x, regardless how they are actually typeset. As others have noted, though, it may look weird to have boldface subscripts.

To add to this, there seems to be at least the following four cases:

  1. \vec{x}_i which could mean the i-th element of vector x
  2. \vec{x}_\vec{i} which could mean a subvector (a slice) of a vector x
  3. \vec{x_i} which one could interpret as an i-th element from a collection of vectors
  4. \vec{x_\vec{i}} which could be an element of a collection of vectors indexed by vectors.

When using bold face to typeset vectors, there would be no way to distinguish between 2, 3 and 4, and 3 would be somewhat misleading, as it would seem that the index is a vector, which it isn't.

If you used an extensible arrow to indicate vectors, each of those would be typeset differently, in somewhat logical way, but something like \vec{x_{i+2j-1}} would look rather ugly, I think.

  • Thanks for expanding on the question! It makes it clear that there must be a section on conventions used in my text. (In my text most of your cases will not occur, the indices always represent an element of a group of vectors/matrices. )
    – Unapiedra
    Dec 2, 2011 at 14:35

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