Does the control symbol obtained by following the escape character by return (\<return>, catcode 0 then catcode 5) behave like the control space character (\<space>, catcode 0 then catcode 10)? It seems to:

\TeX\ blah

typesets the same way


does. But I can't justify this behavior by tracing through the lexing process as described in the texbook. What exactly is tex doing here?

  • 4
    Recall that trailing spaces and tabs are removed from the line and that the \endlinechar is added, so what TeX sees is <backslash><endlinechar>.
    – egreg
    Dec 1, 2017 at 17:52

1 Answer 1


There's this in plain.tex

\def\^^M{\ } % control <return> = control <space>
\def\^^I{\ } % same for <tab>
  • To convince oneself that this is what is happening, one can add \def\^^M{something else} and see the results. Dec 1, 2017 at 18:54
  • So it seems that the lexing map from nonletters (characters not of catcode 11) to control symbols isn't one-to-one. Are there any other instances of different strings \<nonletter> being lexed to the same control symbol other than <nonletter> = <return>, <space>, <tab>?
    – fmg
    Dec 1, 2017 at 19:29
  • 2
    @fmg I don't understand your comment. There are other different nonletters \!, \,, etc. you mean if there's another case in which two non-letters end up expanding to the same thing? I don't think there's any other case, but you could do \def\.{\,} and \. would end up expanding to the same as \,. I'm not sure I understand what you are asking.
    – Manuel
    Dec 1, 2017 at 19:40
  • 1
    @fmg Precisely, this is not “naturally occuring”, Knuth defined \<return> and \<tab> to expand to \<space>. It's as if he defined \def\a{\ } \def\b{\ } \def\c{\ } all three macros \a, \b, \c, would expand to \ but by no means it's “natural”.
    – Manuel
    Dec 1, 2017 at 20:00
  • 1
    I wonder if there's a reason why this isn't \let\^^M=\ % ... plain.tex is usually so careful about conserving memory.
    – zwol
    Dec 1, 2017 at 23:55

You must log in to answer this question.

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