# The correct way to mark formulas in LaTeX

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The first thing I learned when I was introduced to LaTeX in 2003 was
that you put inline formulas in `$...$`

and display formulas
in `$$...$$`

. Over the years I became aware of the
alternative forms, `\(...\)`

and `\[...\]`

, but I
found them ugly (because they are) and assumed they were relics from the
early days of TeX, sort of like trigraphs
in C.

As it turns out, it’s all exactly the other way around.
`$...$`

and `$$...$$`

are the old TeX syntax;
`\(...\)`

and `\[...\]`

are the new LaTeX
syntax.

Couldn’t Leslie Lamport think of a better syntax? I bet he could; he
just couldn’t implement it. These days if we don’t like a language, we
create a new one, with its own parser. But Lamport’s LaTeX is not a new
language. It is a set of macros that work on top of Knuth’s TeX. What
LaTeX has achieved is a testament to TeX’s flexibility and Lamport’s
ingenuity. The `\[...\]`

“syntax” is just a pair of TeX
macros, `\[`

and `\]`

, and like all other control
sequences they have to start with a backslash.

So why should we prefer Lamport’s ugly `\(...\)`

and
`\[...\]`

to Knuth’s beautiful `$...$`

and
`$$...$$`

?

You can find the exact details in the answers to the following TeX.SE questions:

- Why is \[ … \] preferable to $$ … $$?
- Are \( and \) preferable to dollar signs for math mode?
- What are the differences between $$, \[, align, equation and displaymath?

Another good reference is An essential guide to LaTeX2ε usage: Obsolete commands and packages.

It boils down to the fact that `\(...\)`

and
`\[...\]`

can be (and are) redefined by packages, whereas
`$...$`

and `$$...$$`

can’t.

The main example you’ll find in the above TeX.SE discussion is that
`$$...$$`

, when used between paragraphs, inserts unwanted
white space; so `\[...\]`

is (re)defined to suppress it.

The specific problem I had with `$$...$$`

is that it breaks the
`lineno`

package, which is used to add line numbers to
the output document. The lines preceding a display formula don’t get
numbered:

This is a problem with all the equation environments, as described in
the lineno
manual, section 7.1. `lineno`

redefines the
`\[`

and `\]`

macros and `displaymath`

,
`equation`

, `eqnarray`

, and `eqnarray*`

environments to work around this issue. But `lineno`

can’t
redefine the `$$...$$`

syntax; hence if you use it, it’ll
break the numbering. (Oddly enough, `lineno`

also doesn’t redefine the
`equation*`

environment, which is another problem I’ve
run into.)

Here’s a cool thing: pandoc will
automatically emit the new LaTeX formula syntax regardless of what
syntax you use in the input file. This means you can continue to use
`$`

and `$$`

in markdown and get the correct
result:

```
% echo '$$a^2+b^2=c^2$$' | pandoc -f markdown -t latex
\[a^2+b^2=c^2\]
```

If you feel adventurous, you could even filter your LaTeX source through pandoc:

```
% echo '$$a^2+b^2=c^2$$' | pandoc -f latex -t latex
\[a^2+b^2=c^2\]
```