I was curious and found the following definition for the macro textcolor defined in the package xcolor:


However, I use the macro with only two arguments and not three arguments:


What I don't understand for this definition is:

  1. What is the meaning of the syntax \textcolor#1#?
  2. What will be the third argument the macro \@textcolor will get in the example above?

This is primitive tex syntax that really shouldn't be used in a latex package. It's used here as in 1993 fitting this all into a 640K machine we were really short of space and saving a few dozen bytes by shortcutting the definition was worth it.

If you go

\def\foo#1#{zzz #1 zzz}

then #1 is everything from \foo to the first brace, so

\foo one two three {zzz}

then #1 would be one two three

Using this allows \textcolor to grab any optional arguments without actually parsing for them and then re-insert them so \color sees them.

so compare




in the first case #1 is empty so the expansion is


which is


but in the second case #1 is [rgb] (including the brackets) so the first expansion is


which is


so the [rgb] isn't really ever seen by \textcolor as an optional argument, it is just grabbed and passed to \color.

  • Thank you for your clear answer. Is the second sharp after #1 really necessary then? – Saroupille Feb 14 '19 at 17:42
  • 1
    @Saroupille Yes, otherwise it would only read the first token after \textcolor which would be [ in the case of an optional argument. – TeXnician Feb 14 '19 at 19:22

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