One of my students has asked me the following question, which I have no idea how to answer.

In the following example, why does one entry contain the abbreviation comm. while the other contains the abbreviation comment.. I'm assuming that both are intended to be abbreviations for 'commentary', but I do not know why Biblatex distinguishes the two cases. (The distinction is clearly deliberate - see below.)

  author        =   {Author, A. N.},
  title         =   {Arduous Anti-Adventures},
  pages         =   {3--4},
  editor        =   {Cracks, Wise and Alec, Smart},
  commentator   =   {Cracks, Wise and Alec, Smart},
  booktitle    =   {Positive Pitfalls},
  publisher     =   {BRU},
  address       =   {Universe},
  year          =   2009}
  author        =   {Author, A. N. Other},
  title         =   {Bonkers Boggling Bathrobes},
  pages         =   {39--47},
  editor        =   {Cracks, Wise and Alec, Smart},
  commentator   =   {Cracks, Wise},
  booktitle    =   {Positive Pitfalls},
  publisher     =   {BRU},
  address       =   {Universe},
  year          =   2009}

comm, comment and commentary by commentator(s)

In english.lbx, we have

  withcommentator  = {{with a commentary by}{with a comment\adddot\ by}},

but this is the only place in which the abbreviation is comment\adddot rather than comm\adddot.

Looking at the way Biblatex handles string definitions, I must admit that it seems to be a recipe for inconsistency, since nothing is reused. That is, I would have expected a single definition for, say, each of \commentary@full and \commentary@abbrv, which would then be reused when defining subsequent strings requiring the same word. This would make it easy for users to override a default, if desired, and help to ensure consistency and ease of maintenance. But, instead, the same basic definition is basically repeated over and over, will all the concomitant room for error.

But, very clearly, Biblatex is a thoroughly considered and carefully designed package. So I find it difficult to believe that there is no reason for either the system, in general, or the apparent discrepancy, in particular.

Could somebody enlighten us?


Note that, in other cases, comm\adddot is used regardless of whether the long form is commented or commentary. For example,

translatorscoaf  = {{translation, commentary\finalandcomma\ and afterword}%
                  {trans., comm\adddot\finalandcomma\ and afterw\adddot}}

where 'commentary' is abbreviated as comm\adddot, and

byeditorco       = {{edited and commented by}%
                  {ed\adddotspace and comm\adddot\ by}},

where 'commented' is abbreviated by comm\adddot.

  • In the first case it is “edited and commented by”, in the second case it's “with a commentary by”.
    – egreg
    May 27, 2017 at 9:29
  • @egreg But in other cases where the long form has 'commentary', the abbreviation used is comm\adddot. For example, translatorscoaf = {{translation, commentary\finalandcomma\ and afterword}% {trans., comm\adddot\finalandcomma\ and afterw\adddot}}. That's just one example.
    – cfr
    May 27, 2017 at 11:38
  • @egreg And similarly for 'commented'. For example, byeditorco = {{edited and commented by}% {ed\adddotspace and comm\adddot\ by}},. ('Commented' sounds most bizarre to me regardless, but that's a different issue.)
    – cfr
    May 27, 2017 at 11:44
  • 1
    @moewe I never thought about it before, but I guess it bothers me now it has been pointed out. And one thing I emphasise to students is consistency of formatting, so it is not good if I can't justify apparent discrepancies. (Not to mention the errors I introduced all of my own, but I know what to do about those!) Do you think PLK would be interested in a revised version of the English translation? 'Commented by' really seems wrong to me because a commentary is not the same as comments.
    – cfr
    May 27, 2017 at 16:28
  • 1
    I'm quite sure he would. And if not he then at least I would be very grateful. The 'commented by' works reasonably well in German if translated literally, that might explain it. Even more reason to have a native speaker investigate the strings (the less often used ones, especially) properly.
    – moewe
    May 27, 2017 at 17:05

1 Answer 1


The commentator field was introduced in version 0.5 of biblatex. I could obtain version 0.8, and in that version the commentator/commentary-related strings were already as they are today.

Unfortunately, we can't ask Philipp Lehmann why things are the way they are. I think it is fair to assume that this was an oversight. Since the string is among the more rarely used, I think it is not at all unlikely that an inconsistency like this remained undetected for quite some time.

Either PL wanted to abbreviate 'commentator' and 'commentary' differently, and that was forgotten about when the combined bibstrings were written; or he didn't mean to do so and the comment\adddot was an oversight and not intentional.

There are a few other inconsistencies in english.lbx with respect to the punctuation commands used. I assume they arose because the file grew organically and was not written in one go.

It is true that the .lbxs in their current form feature quite bit of redundancy, especially when it comes to the 'combined' bibstrings. Introducing another layer of macros would make things more complicated and was probably not seen as necessary when things started out. When things grow it is not always possible to foresee what is going to be needed.

  • Presumably, it is possible to use macros in the definitions, though, as \adddot etc. are used here, so it could be done if it makes sense now ....
    – cfr
    May 28, 2017 at 17:38
  • @cfr Absolutely, it is. The use of macros for recurring strings is just not practice at the moment and would ideally be supported by a proper interface. This would turn the translations into a two-pass structure with interdependencies, translations will look more daunting. I admit that the current redundant situation is not ideal, but I'm not sure if using macros is going to make things better.
    – moewe
    May 28, 2017 at 21:31
  • @cfr One thing occurred to me: Even at the moment there is no problem 'stacking' bibstrings, so in theory editorco = {\bibstring{editor} \bibstring{and} \bibstring{commentator}}, is possible. In case one needs a string that is not already defined it is easy to define a new one from within the .lbx.
    – moewe
    May 29, 2017 at 6:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .