Consider the \includepdf macro from the pdfpages package. If I do


there is no problem. However, if I do


I get the error

! Missing = inserted for \ifnum.

I earlier thought that the problem was that \includepdf wasn't expanding the macro argument to pages, but now I'm wondering if that is indeed the case. Because if I try


it makes no visible difference.

I've tried running with \tracingmacros=1 and it looks like in both cases \foo at least gets expanded, but it's unclear what goes wrong after that. MWE follows.


% \includepdf[pages=\expanded{\foo}]{blank.pdf}

And here is part of the \tracingmacros=1 output corresponding to the version with \expanded, namely


Output follows:

\foo ->{1-}

\AM@trim@spacei #1->\AM@trim@spaceii #1 \END 

\AM@trim@spaceii #1 #2\END ->#1

\AM@checkinteger #1->\ifcat _\ifnum 9<1#1_\else A\fi \AM@integertrue \else \AM@
integerfalse \fi 

\AM@tempi ->1-

\AM@integertrue ->\let \ifAM@integer \iftrue 

\AM@checkpagenumber #1->\ifnum #1>\AM@pagecount \relax \ifthenelse {\boolean {A
M@pkg@draft} \and \boolean {AM@survey}}{}{\PackageError {pdfpages} {Page #1 of 
`\AM@currentdocname ' does not exist} {You have set a wrong page number in the 
`pages' option. Document \MessageBreak `\AM@currentdocname ' does not have #1 p

\AM@tempi ->1-

! Missing = inserted for \ifnum.
<to be read again> 

As can be seen, \foo does get expanded in this case.

Related question earlier asked by me: "Passing arguments using pgfkeys to a macro for including PDF files, using pdfpages".

  • Not tested, but the problem probably is due to the extra set of braces. Possibly in an early stage of processing, the package tries to search for a -, which it doesn't find because it's hidden between {...}. Then when checking the value of the page it assumes there is no - and tries to do \ifnum 1->\AM@pagecount, which is invalid. Probably if you remove the extra set of braces it will work. – Phelype Oleinik Sep 16 '19 at 13:13
  • 1
    Values to keys are generally not expanded; the macros for detecting a range require the hyphen to be “visible” to begin with. – egreg Sep 16 '19 at 13:13
  • @PhelypeOleinik It does the same thing without the braces. I could remove the braces if you want. – Faheem Mitha Sep 16 '19 at 13:15
  • @egreg What do you mean by a "visible" hyphen? And if the issue is that the keys are not expanded, why doesn't \expanded work? Am I applying it incorrectly? – Faheem Mitha Sep 16 '19 at 13:16
  • @FaheemMitha Because values are not expanded, so instead of \foo the macros for detecting a range see \expanded{\foo} which has no hyphen as well. – egreg Sep 16 '19 at 13:17

When pdfpages examines the pages key, it does what's specified in its definition


The \AM@CheckValue part is not a problem, because of

             {Option `#1' must have a non-empty value}%

(well, \PackageError should have three arguments, so it's best not passing an empty value).

Then \AM@pagestemp is set to contain the value, in your case \foo; it is initialized to contain 1.

After that, \expandafter\AM@readlist\expandafter{\AM@pagestemp} is called, which becomes


This is a macro that splits the argument at commas and each item is passed to \AM@checkrange by


In your case, #1 is \foo. The macro is defined by


and #2 being empty means that no hyphen is present in the current item. But the macro also does


so, in your case, \AM@tempi gets to contain 1-; however, the expected value is an integer, which 1- isn't. Error.

You can add to your document


but don't blame me if something goes wrong.

  • Thank you for the detailed explanation. But shouldn't this just work? – Faheem Mitha Sep 16 '19 at 14:38
  • @FaheemMitha No, why? The package author decided not to support macros in the value of the key pages. – egreg Sep 16 '19 at 14:59

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