This is the official manual for the latest Org-mode release.

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11.6 Special symbols

You can use LaTeX-like syntax to insert special symbols—named entities—like ‘\alpha’ to indicate the Greek letter, or ‘\to’ to indicate an arrow. Completion for these symbols is available, just type ‘\’ and maybe a few letters, and press M-<TAB> to see possible completions. If you need such a symbol inside a word, terminate it with a pair of curly brackets. For example

     Protip: Given a circle \Gamma of diameter d, the length of its circumference
     is \pi{}d.

A large number of entities is provided, with names taken from both HTML and LaTeX; you can comfortably browse the complete list from a dedicated buffer using the command org-entities-help. It is also possible to provide your own special symbols in the variable org-entities-user.

During export, these symbols are transformed into the native format of the exporter back-end. Strings like \alpha are exported as &alpha; in the HTML output, and as \(\alpha\) in the LaTeX output. Similarly, \nbsp becomes &nbsp; in HTML and ~ in LaTeX.

Entities may also be used as a may to escape markup in an Org document, e.g., ‘\under{}not underlined\under’ exports as ‘_not underlined_’.

If you would like to see entities displayed as UTF-8 characters, use the following command1:

C-c C-x \
Toggle display of entities as UTF-8 characters. This does not change the buffer content which remains plain ASCII, but it overlays the UTF-8 character for display purposes only.

In addition to regular entities defined above, Org exports in a special way2 the following commonly used character combinations: ‘\-’ is treated as a shy hyphen, ‘--’ and ‘---’ are converted into dashes, and ‘...’ becomes a compact set of dots.


Footnotes

[1] You can turn this on by default by setting the variable org-pretty-entities, or on a per-file base with the #+STARTUP option entitiespretty.

[2] This behaviour can be disabled with - export setting (see Export settings).