Many resources on LaTeX teach that "é" and "ä" are typeset with (respectively) \'{e} and \"{a}; and it is similar for other accent symbols. Are the braces really needed? Aren't \'e and \"a shorter but identical in functionality?

  • With the right packages you can even type them in directly using your keyboard (or copy&paste).
    – doncherry
    Jul 14, 2012 at 19:12

2 Answers 2


The manuals usually insist teaching a uniform syntax: all arguments will be braced. However, as far as TeX is concerned, a one letter (one token, to be precise) argument can in most cases be left without braces:

\"{a} \"a

will give exactly the same result. Not that I recommend it, but also


will result in a one column tabular, just like \begin{tabular}{c}. The braces for accented letters are really handy for \c or \v: writing

gar\c con

is clumsy and gar\c{c}on is better. However, accents are more easily input using inputenc facility. It's way easier to encode our documents with UTF-8, declaring


and then writing

garçon élève flügel čaj

The precise rule is:

when TeX is looking for an argument to a macro defined with \newcommand, if it finds a left brace {, then the argument will be whatever is between this brace and the corresponding } (at the same level); otherwise the first token (character or control sequence) will be the argument.

This explains why one can omit the first pair of braces in


which is perfectly equivalent to


Of course this is not valid for optional arguments, which always need to be enclosed in brackets [...].

Note: for BibTeX the situation is different (as nicely explained by Mico).


For bibliographies at least -- more specifically, for files that will be processed by BibTeX at some point -- it's very important to write the accented characters as {\'e} and {\"a} rather than as \'{e} and \"{a} (or, for that matter, as \'e and \"a).

For other examples of how to render accented characters in a manner that's robust to BibTeX's requirements see, e.g., this answer (shameless self-citation alert!).

  • 2
    Unfortunately, kerning is inhibited with {\"a} and friends unless you are using LuaTeX.
    – mhp
    Jul 14, 2012 at 21:03
  • @mhp: I guess one's facing a choice between two negatives (when using BibTeX): either forego accented characters, or put up with some instances of less-than-optimal kerning of character pairs. Confronted with this choice, I suppose most users will put up with the latter, right?
    – Mico
    Jul 14, 2012 at 21:47
  • Yes, undoubtedly.
    – mhp
    Jul 15, 2012 at 6:58
  • You can type e.g. {T\^y} which I think should maintain kerning. But this is problematic if T would affect the sort order. EDIT: That is, you can put the whole word in curly brackets (T\^y) rather than just the accented character (\^y).
    – cfr
    Jan 3, 2014 at 1:05

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