The Dirac delta distribution is ubiquitous in physics. Since it is a special object I wanted to give it some extra spacing by using \mathop. I know that single letters inside \mathop are centred around the math axis, whereas multiple letters are aligned with the baseline. Here is a simple Plain TeX example:

\setbox0=\hbox{$\mathop{\delta} \mathop{\delta{}}$}
\noindent\rlap{\vrule width \wd0 height .1pt}\box0

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However, I was not able to find this behaviour documented in the TeXbook. Can someone suggest a reference for this? I really would like to know the exact rules of when a \mathop is centred and when it is aligned at the baseline.


Appendix G rule 13 ends with the text

Shift box~$x$ down by ${1\over2}\bigl(h(x)-d(x)\bigr) -a$, where $a=\sigma_{22}$, so that the operator character is centered vertically on the axis; this shifted box becomes the nucleus of the Op atom.

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  • »If the nucleus is not a symbol [...] go to Rule 13a«. Now what is a symbol? Can you help me? – Henri Menke May 8 '17 at 7:15
  • @HenriMenke in that context it means a single character so \mathop{a} is a symbol \mathop{{}a} isn't – David Carlisle May 8 '17 at 7:46

The description in tex.web is clearer. An op_noad is an atom built with \mathop or a mathchar of class 1. It follows that a single character is centered with respect to the math axis, but a “complex” nucleus won't. Note that \mathop{{\delta}} would not work, because the braces around a single character are always removed in math mode; more technically, a subformula consisting of a single character or of a single Acc atom is stripped off the braces and inserted as a normal atom.

enter image description here

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  • I was wondering what tex.web is, so a search here brought up the following answer. – jjdb May 8 '17 at 11:39

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