12.4 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

Pro tip: 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 backend. Strings like ‘\alpha’ are exported as ‘α’ in the HTML output, and as ‘\(\alpha\)’ in the LaTeX output. Similarly, ‘\nbsp’ becomes ‘ ’ in HTML and ‘~’ in LaTeX.

If you would like to see entities displayed as UTF-8 characters, use the following command109:

C-c C-x \ (org-toggle-pretty-entities)

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 way110 the following commonly used character combinations: ‘\-’ is treated as a shy hyphen, ‘--’ and ‘---’ are converted into dashes, and ‘...’ becomes a compact set of dots.



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’.


This behavior can be disabled with ‘-’ export setting (see Export Settings).