I just came across this ! (backslash exclamation mark) in the code for a table in somebody else's tex and I was wondering what it does.

                \begin{tabular}{l | c c c | c r}
                        \textbf{Thing} & $a$ & $b$ & $c$ & $d$ & $e$\\
                        Stuff &  \!\!100\!\!  &  \!\!$10^{6}$\!\! & \!\!$\pi_0$\!\! & $\sigma$ & $2^{30}$\\

My tex editor says unrecognized command but it compiles just fine. I've tried on overleaf and it seems to tighten the table somehow. Does anybody know more?

  • 1
    A \! is a negative space, see tex.stackexchange.com/questions/9091/… for more information.
    – BambOo
    Oct 16 '18 at 9:13
  • 1
    It doesn't compile fine!
    – egreg
    Oct 16 '18 at 9:42
  • @egreg I'm not getting any errors for the overleaf example. What do you mean?
    – Elias
    Oct 16 '18 at 16:56
  • @Elias I get 11 errors, after adding a suitable minimal preamble.
    – egreg
    Oct 16 '18 at 17:14
  • Hm..strange. Compiling the overleaf example with pdflatex I don't get any.
    – Elias
    Oct 16 '18 at 17:18

I don't know what the commands \! are supposed to do in the code you show, other than raising many errors.

The command \! is only allowed in math mode (unless redefined, which I'd discourage). It's purpose is to insert a negative thin space, which is useful in several places. For instance


is an improvement over ^{2}, because it moves the exponent towards the parenthesis and takes care of its bending.

Another place where it is helpful is in 2/\!\log x, because for technical reasons / is an ordinary symbol and TeX would add a thin space between it and the “log” operator.

Here's a picture: left the output with \!, right without.

enter image description here

The negative spacing of \! exactly matches the positive one by \, (which is automatically inserted in some places) in math mode. Note that \, can be used outside of math mode, where it inserts a sixth of a quad of space.

If you want to tighten a table, reduce the size of \tabcolsep. Using explicit negative spaces all over the place is not the correct way.

And never use \resizebox on a table.

  • 1
    Huh...I always thought this kind of stuff was automatic in tex. I have to fix such spaces manually?
    – Elias
    Oct 16 '18 at 16:57
  • @Elias There are more things in heaven and math formulas than are dreamt of by your TeX engine.
    – egreg
    Oct 16 '18 at 17:12
  • In any case, good to know, although I have no intention of fiddling with this kind of thing. :)
    – Elias
    Oct 16 '18 at 17:15

This symbol is usually defined as

 \! negative thin space (normally 1/6 of a quad)

It is commonly used in tables, and formulas among other ways to manipulate spaces in LaTeX

And before you do post a question, please do run a search with similar keywords on this site. Hope this helps.

  • 3
    Commonly used in tables? Please explain. I hardly never see it used other than in a few math constructions.
    – daleif
    Oct 16 '18 at 9:34
  • @daleif I am not sure if I can provide examples that are relevant here, since it is a matter of usage, and remember coming across it in tables. Oct 16 '18 at 9:38
  • @GermanShepherd I tried searching for it but got no useful results. The search can't handle the special symbols, I guess. I didn't know it was called a negative thin space. ;)
    – Elias
    Oct 16 '18 at 16:54
  • @daleif Well, it can be used also for more bizarre goals as draw a donkey :-)
    – Fran
    Oct 16 '18 at 19:19
  • @Fran That was a good one :-) Oct 23 '18 at 3:55

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