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Naïve Coq


to forget a hypothesis clear
simple case analysis destruct
smart case analysis on complex objects inversion
inductive case analysis induction
simultaneous induction induction x, y
a more general inductive hypothesis generalize or revert
inductive case analysis on a Function body functional induction
Coq to do something obvious auto, omega
to expand a function body simpl, unfold
to expand a Function body rewrite [functionname]_equation
to rewrite using equality rewrite H
an obvious contradiction contradiction
a contradiction about different constructors discriminate
to go from a theorem’s conclusion to its premise apply
to go from a theorem’s premise to its conclusion apply in H
a new hypothesis pose, assert
a new name for an expression remember
to work with A /\ B split (goal), destruct (hypothesis)
to work with A \/ B left, right (goal), destruct (hypothesis)
to show exists x, P exists p
to create x from exists x, P hypothesis destruct, destruct_conjs
the same thing in every subgoal tactic1; tactic2
different things in diffent subgoals `[ tactic1
suppressed errors ...; try tactic; ...

Introduction tactics: adding hypotheses

These tactics add new hypotheses.

pose (expression)

This adds a new hypothesis defined by expression, which might be an already-defined theorem (e.g., pose le_S_n, pose (le_S_n 2 3)) or a version of an existing hypothesis (e.g., pose (IHx 0)). pose (expression) as Hname gives the new hypothesis a specific name.

assert (expression)

Pause the current proof and start a new subgoal of proving expression.

assert (expression) by tactic

Add expression as a hypothesis, but only if it can be proved by tactic.

remember (expression) as x

Adds a new variable x and a hypothesis x = expression, then rewrites everything else to use x instead of expression. Useful to simplify arguments for tactics such as functional induction.

Note that some people think good Coq style requires minimizing hypotheses, so you should only introduce facts by applying them to existing hypotheses or goals. I think this is too strict.

Destructive tactics: destruction, induction, inversion

Every object of an inductive type T was created by one of T’s constructors. A nat was created by either O or S, a bool was created by either false or true, and so forth.

The destructive tactics break a proof into cases by generating one case per constructor. Destructive tactics usually create subgoals. They are either simple (they don’t generate inductive hypotheses) or inductive (they do).

destruct x: simple

Replaces x with one subgoal per x constructor.

destruct H: simple

Replaces H with one subgoal per H constructor.

destruct (expression): simple

Adds one subgoal per constructor of the expression, possibly including new hypotheses. Example: destruct (eq_nat_dec n m).

destruct can lose context. For example, destruct (S n) generates an impossible case (the one where (S n) = O), but also drops the context required to prove the case impossible. Other destructive tactics are less stupid. destruct is best on simple objects, like pure variables.

destruct_pairs: simple

Separate all logical-and hyptheses into their component parts. Never loses context. Needs Require Import Program.Tactics.

inversion_clear H: simple

Replaces H with one subgoal per H constructor, and generates additional constraints based on arguments to H, and eliminates impossible cases, and cleans up redundant hypotheses.

inversion_clear is useful when destruct loses too much context.

inversion H: simple

Like inversion_clear, but preserves possibly-redundant hypotheses.

Example: Simple destructive tactic comparison

Here we try to prove a basic fact about cons. Note how the different tactics behave:

Coq < Lemma cons_eq {A} (a b:A) x y:
Coq <     a :: x = b :: y -> a = b.
Coq < Proof. intros.

1 subgoal, subgoal 1 (ID 748)

  A : Type
  n, m : A
  p, q : list A
  H : n :: p = m :: q
  p = q

Coq < destruct H. (* loses context *)

1 subgoal, subgoal 1 (ID 757)

  A : Type
  n, m : A
  p, q : list A
  p = q

Coq < Restart. intros; inversion H. (* keeps context, redundancy *)

1 subgoal, subgoal 1 (ID 774)

  A : Type
  n, m : A
  p, q : list A
  H : n :: p = m :: q
  H1 : n = m
  H2 : p = q
  q = q

Coq < Restart. intros; inversion_clear H. (* keeps context, less redundancy *)

  A : Type
  n, m : A
  p, q : list A
  q = q

induction x: inductive

Adds one subgoal per x constructor, with inductive hypotheses when appropriate. You can induct over hypotheses too.

induction x, y: inductive

Simultaneous induction on x and y. This is often preferred to induction x; induction y, which performs a separate induction on y for each inductive case on x. In simultaneous induction, the inductive hypotheses are over both x and y; in separate induction, y’s inductive hypothesis will assume a specific x.

functional induction (f arg...): inductive

Adds one subgoal per case in the definition of f, which must have been defined by Function. Works best if the args are simple variables; if they’re not, it can lose context. Use remember to avoid this.

rewrite f_equation is useful for functional induction.

generalize x

Replaces a goal that refers to a specific variable, x, with forall x, [goal]. Use this before induction if applying an induction tactic gives you a too-specific inductive hypothesis.

revert x

Acts like generalize x, but also removes references to x from the hypotheses.

clear H

Clears a hypothesis.

Applicative tactics

These tactics work with implications: statements of the form P -> Q. This includes certain inductive constructors; for instance, the type of the natural-number successor operation S is nat -> nat.

apply H, apply Theorem, apply (expression)

Matches the goal with the conclusion of the implication, and replaces it with the premise. For instance, given the goal S (a + b) > S x, apply gt_n_S will create the new goal a + b > x. May generate new subgoals for new dependencies.

apply ... with (var:=expr)

Sometimes Coq can’t figure out how to apply an implication. Help it by giving more hypotheses or by assigning values to specific variables. This often occurs with transitivity. For instance:

Coq < Check gt_trans.

     : forall n m p : nat, n > m -> m > p -> n > p

Coq < Lemma gt_trans_Snp x y z: S x > y -> y > S z -> S x > S z.
Coq < intros. apply gt_trans.

Error: Unable to find an instance for the variable m.

Coq < apply (gt_trans (S x) y z).         (* works *)
Coq < apply gt_trans with (m:=y).         (* also works *)
Coq < apply (gt_trans _ _ _ (S x > y)).   (* also works *)

apply ... in H

Applies an implication in a hypothesis rather than the goal. This works in the other direction—it matches the premise of the implication against the hypothesis, and replaces the hypothesis with the conclusion.

Existence tactics

These tactics are useful when you’re trying to prove that something exists. They are really forms of apply, specialized for inductive types. The goal states the something exists; the tactics replace that goal with the premises for one of the corresponding constructors.

These tactics are typically used for propositions rather than objects, since a proof goal rarely has the form “a list exists.” They do not apply to hypotheses: you can’t say split in H. In hypotheses, use a destructive tactic instead. (For instance, to split apart a hypothesis H : A /\ B or H : A \/ B, you usually want destruct H.)


split is typically used for logical-and goals, but works for all goals with single-constructor types. It just applies the single constructor. split never loses context.

Explanation: Every object witnesses its type, and constructors let us make new objects from old ones. In Coq, the goal A /\ B (or, equivalently, and A B) means “there exists an object of type and A B.” Since that inductive type has one constructor, conj (of type A -> B -> and A B), that object, if it exists, must have been constructed by that constructor. As soon as we have an A and a B (that is, witnesses for those types), we can create an A /\ B by applying conj. The split tactic implements this logic: it replaces a A /\ B goal with its requirements, A and B.

left and right

left and right are typically used for logical-or goals, but work for all goals with two-constructor types. left applies the first constructor and right applies the second one. This can lose context, so make sure you pick the right one.

exists (goal)

exists p is typically used for existence goals (like exists p, p = 5), but works for all goals with single-constructor types. It applies the single constructor with argument p. For instance, exists p, p = 5 can be proved by exists (2 * 2 + 1); auto.


More generally, constructor applies the first constructor that matches the goal. If more than one constructor matches, constructor can lose context. Use constructor N to apply the Nth constructor specifically. Use constructor ... with (var:=value) if the constructor can’t figure out values for some variables.

destruct for exists hypotheses

A hypothesis like H : exists x, P says that some x exists. To find a specific x for which P holds, run destruct H. To simultaneously instantiate all exists hypotheses (and break down /\ hypotheses into their components), run destruct_conjs (requires Program.Tactics).

Completion tactics

These tactics solve a goal.

auto (fail-free)

Solve an “obvious” system. “Obvious” means Coq searches for a solution by simplifying expressions, rewriting equalities, finding contradictions, etc., but not for very long. Give a number, such as auto 10, to tell Coq to look a little harder.

If auto can’t solve the current subgoal, it does nothing.


Solve a system by arithmetic or fail. You may prefer try omega.


Solve a system with transparently contradictory hypotheses (e.g., False, ~ True) or fail. You may prefer try contradiction.

discriminate H

Solve a system by contradiction, given an absurd hypothesis H that equates different constructors of the same type (e.g., S n = 0).


Solve a system whose goal is a reflexive equality (e.g., x = x). auto is better.

Simplification tactics

These tactics simplify expressions by rewriting function calls.

simpl in * (fail-free)

Simplify all function calls that can be simplified. To localize the tactic’s effects, Use simpl (goal only), simpl in H (hypothesis H only), simpl functionname (functionname only), simpl functionname at N [in H] (only the Nth occurrence of functionname).

unfold functionname in *

Replace a function call with the function’s body. Use unfold functionname or unfold functionname in H to localize effects.

fold functionname in *

Replace a function’s body with a call. This is the inverse of unfold functionname in *.

rewrite <functionname>_equation in *

The simpl and unfold tactics don’t work well on recursive functions defined by Function. Use this instead; it rewrites a function call with the function’s body.

Tactics that use equivalence

These tactics rewrite expressions using equivalence facts, either primitive equality (x = y) or if-and-only-if propositions (A <-> B).

rewrite H in *

H should be an equality or equivalence. This replaces all occurrences of the left-hand side of the equality with the right-hand side.

rewrite <- H in *

Same, but replaces occurrences of the right-hand side with the left-hand side.



No-op tactic.


Always fail.

try tactic

Try tactic, but do nothing if it fails.

tactic1; tactic2

Do tactic1, and if it succeeds, apply tactic2 to every generated subgoal.

[ tactic1 | tactic2 | ... | tacticN ]

Requires that there are N active subgoals. Applies tacticI to the Ith subgoal.

repeat tactic

Do tactic until it fails.