Update 1: I have just learnt from the answers below that it is more correct to say that MathJax is the format for writing maths on the Mathematics Stack Exchange, that it is essentially made from the maths part of LaTeX, and that LaTeX is written in TeX. So that resolves my first query.

I have found one guide: TEX Commands available in MathJax:


which is good, but I have to do a lot of scrolling to find anything!

Are there any more resources out there like this?

Also, any advice on how to write TeX in TeXworks, would be much appreciated. A simply written pdf on the topic would be handy, for example. (I don't seem to be having much luck finding one via google) At present, I seem to be getting nothing but errors!

Update 2: Are there any advantages to using TeX over LaTeX in an editor such as TeXworks (i.e. if say I want to create a pdf document?) I have read that LaTeX is more refined, and produces better quality results?


3 Answers 3


It's probably worth noting that stackexchange doesn't use TeX but rather MathJax. MathJax is a JavaScript Library that uses a LaTeX-like syntax for mathematics.

LaTeX produces complete documents so a typical LaTeX document will look like


If you find a LaTeX guide online that is the sort of thing it will describe. None of that markup works in MathJax, MathJax just deals with the math expressions such as $\sqrt{x}$ to get a square root.

There are several sites that allow you to experiment interactively with MathJax seeing how the expression would display before you submit it This one for example


  • Thanks for the useful link, and advice. I have noticed that some people use TeX on the mathematics stack exchange, and I used LaTeX, and that seemed to be fine too. How does MathJax syntax differ from LaTeX and TeX?
    – Seraphina
    Jan 13, 2013 at 14:24
  • 3
    MathJax is essentially latex syntax (which is mostly a superset of (plain) tex syntax, I believe math.stackexchange also loads the mathjax configuration that defines the syntax of most of the amsmath package as well, so \begin{align} etc. LaTeX is written in TeX as is plain TeX so saying some use tex and you use latex is rather misleading (but I guess I know what you mean:-) I stress again that you use neither tex nor latex when you use mathjax you are using javascript which is interpreting the syntax in a way that is latex-like, so any finer distinctions betwen tex/latex don't apply Jan 13, 2013 at 14:36
  • All is much clearer now, (I think!)
    – Seraphina
    Jan 13, 2013 at 16:48

The main difference between the TeX language and the LaTeX syntax built on top of it is that TeX requires you to specify the page layout and typography with low level commands, and LaTeX provides high level commands that do the layout "invisibly" in the background. In LaTeX you don't have to worry about how the document will look if you don't want to, but you still have control.

LaTeX provides semantic markup which means you can write \begin{theorem} instead of \textbf{Theorem 1.}, and also takes care of automatic numbering and other "smart" things for you.

All the powerful packages (for drawing, importing pictures, setting color, creating pretty tables etc.) are usually LaTeX-only, with some exceptions. So I think LaTeX is much more widespread than Plain TeX.


I think part of your question is caused by the fact that TeX and LaTeX are often used as synonyms even if they are not. TeX is very low-level, it's close to specify the position of every character by hand. Therefore LaTeX provides a more high-level set of macros that take care of the low-level stuff. The code in the document that you link looks way more like LaTeX than like TeX code.

So you should find some introductory books or tutorials, maybe with a focus on maths. Maybe the links in the comments to your question may provide some help.


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