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 back-end. 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 command107:

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 way108 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).