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Arguments to requests and macros are processed much like the shell: The line is split into arguments according to spaces.1

An argument to a macro which is intended to contain spaces can either be enclosed in double quotes, or have the spaces escaped with backslashes. This is not true for requests.

Here are a few examples for a hypothetical macro uh:

     .uh The Mouse Problem
     .uh "The Mouse Problem"
     .uh The\ Mouse\ Problem

The first line is the uh macro being called with 3 arguments, ‘The’, ‘Mouse’, and ‘Problem’. The latter two have the same effect of calling the uh macro with one argument, ‘The Mouse Problem’.2

A double quote which isn't preceded by a space doesn't start a macro argument. If not closing a string, it is printed literally.

For example,

     .xxx a" "b c" "de"fg"

has the arguments ‘a"’, ‘b c, ‘de’, and ‘fg"’. Don't rely on this obscure behaviour!

There are two possibilities to get a double quote reliably.

Double quotes in the ds request are handled differently. See Strings, for more details.


[1] Plan 9's troff implementation also allows tabs for argument separation – gtroff intentionally doesn't support this.

[2] The last solution, i.e., using escaped spaces, is “classical” in the sense that it can be found in most troff documents. Nevertheless, it is not optimal in all situations, since ‘ inserts a fixed-width, non-breaking space character which can't stretch. gtroff provides a different command \~ to insert a stretchable, non-breaking space.