I reduced the problem to the following minimal working example (MWE):

  @misc {test1,
    author = {Author},
    note = {{This note is "bad"}},



\usepackage[ngerman, english]{babel}
%\usepackage[english, ngerman]{babel}



The code above works fine. However, if I change the main language with \usepackage[english, ngerman]{babel} I get the following error:

! Argument of \language@active@arg" has an extra }.
  • Ideally, I'm looking for a solution which doesn't include changing the .bib files, because they're external and I don't have control over them. Even though the problem seems to be with " and } inside the .bib file. (I realized that note = {This note is "bad"} or note = {{This note is bad}} or note = {{This note is "bad".}} seem to work with both languages. But note = {{This note is "bad"}} isn't malformed, or is it? It should work, right?)
  • So, maybe I can just set the main language for the .bib resource back to english as a workaround?

Thanks for any ideas :-)

  • Welcome to TeX.SE! – Cragfelt Dec 12 '17 at 1:36
  • I am just welcoming. You did not do anything wrong, yet ;-) – Cragfelt Dec 12 '17 at 6:30
  • Put the filecontents environment before \documentclass – egreg Dec 12 '17 at 7:21
  • Incidentally this is the same problem as the recent tex.stackexchange.com/q/405610/35864. You should not use " for quotation mark, use csquotes and its \enquote{foo} or ``foo''. – moewe Dec 12 '17 at 7:34
  • I assume it pops up from time to time. The " thing is probably mentioned in any good introduction to TeX, so many people know it. – moewe Dec 12 '17 at 9:28

This example reproduces the issue




When ngerman is active, " is a shorthand character whose action depends on what follows it. For instance "a is translated into \"a for the umlaut and "| sets a morpheme boundary for breaking ligatures. What should never follow " is } and your .bbl file will contain

\field{note}{{This note is "bad"}}

Removing the unneeded braces does not solve the issue. Use proper quoting

note={This note is ``bad''}

or, better, use csquotes facilities:

note={This note is \enquote{bad}}
  • Oh, wow. Thank you! I didn't know that. So using double quotes " in LaTeX is generally bad style? Anything I can do from my .tex file about that? Or should I contact the distributor for the .bib files? – finefoot Dec 12 '17 at 9:14
  • @emmi474 Yes, " should never be used in LaTeX for quotes. – egreg Dec 12 '17 at 9:51
  • Okay, I'll use \enquote{} then. Is it a bad idea to use it without including csquotes? I don't need the quotes to be language-specific. – finefoot Dec 12 '17 at 9:56
  • @emmi474 In general you will need csquotes for \enquote. biblatex defines a poor man's version of \enquote if csquotes is not loaded. You can turn off csquotes' language detection if you don't want it. – moewe Dec 12 '17 at 10:14

I should take the time to read some basic introduction to LaTeX to avoid these problems. The error seems to come from bad quoting. Quoting with " is generally a bad idea. On https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX/Text_Formatting#Quote-marks for example, it says

Don't use the " for right double quotes: when the babel package is used for some languages (e.g. German), the " is redefined to produce an umlaut accent

and there are some possible alternatives shown, too.

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