I've tried latexdef which does not handle --- as the operand. And \texemdash is defined as a character. So that leaves me once again leaning on the collective wisdom of the group :)

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    They are font ligatures (defined in the TFM files) not macros. Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 5:35
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    About your remark on the tagging system: I suggest you test if you can reproduce the behavior (either on your next real question or on a dummy question that you delete right afterwards), and if so, post a bug report on TeX - LaTeX Meta, perhaps with screen shots as evidence. Odds are the Stack Exchange developers, who could fix this potential bug, won’t see your remark here. Thanks for caring!
    – doncherry
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 5:51
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    Related is How does TeX's mechanism for sorting out quotation marks work?, which deals primarily with quotation marks. The underlying point is the same: this is all to do with font ligatures.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 8:04
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    I've removed the part about the tag system, which is not part of the question and as @doncherry says better suited to the meta site.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 11:17

1 Answer 1


There is no definition for -- and ---. They are ligatures defined in the font information, just like the ligatures ff, fi fl that turn into single glyphs without the need to specify it.

It's traditional that fonts define these ligatures (in addition to the f-ligatures)

  • -- for the endash –
  • --- for the emdash —
  • ?` for the inverted question mark ¿
  • !` for the inverted exclamation mark ¡
  • `` for the opening double quotes “
  • '' for the closing double quotes ”

T1 encoded fonts usually have also

  • ,, for the double low quotation mark „
  • << for the opening double guillemets «
  • >> for the closing double guillemets »

Other ones may be defined on a font basis, but shouldn't concern the user.

TeX transforms the combinations at a very deep stage of processing, basically when it's putting characters one after another to form words and paragraphs, very much later than the stage where macros are expanded.

  • So I found---thanks for the 'compleate' answer! While this is usually the case, I'm using EB Garamond and while I can turn on the necessary TeX definition I decided to define my own versions of what was needed hence my question.
    – hsmyers
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 4:07

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