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The example-sentences package for typesetting linguistic examples

Linguists (and scholars in related fields) use example sentences in their writing. There is a fairly accepted standard format for presenting those: Example sentences are numbered continuously throughout a document, and optionally can have subexamples, as in (2) below.

An example of an example

The platonic ideal of a LaTeX package for typesetting such examples would provide an environment that behaves as much as possible as LaTeX's built-in enumerate lists (because, at heart, example lists are just ordered lists). So the above examples should be typeset as:

  \item This is an example.
  \item \begin{examples}
          \item This a sub-example.
          \item This is another sub-example.

The existing packages fall short of this ideal in several ways:

  • linguex has a concise WYSIWYGish syntax that is very readable (which is why I favored it for a long time), but it betrays its TeX roots through various quirks. For example, it has very particular whitespace requirements, which can make working with it a hassle.
  • The same is true for expex, which also features a rather exotic syntax that I've always found too difficult to remember.
  • gb4e.sty is more LaTeXy than the other ones, but it has a number of strange inconsistencies.

As I was dissatisfied with this state of affairs, I decided to write my own package.

Table of contents


As usual, simply place the style files some place where TeX can find them (the directory where your tex files live will work if all else fails).

Then you can load it in the usual way, by placing the following in the preamble of your document:


There are a number of package options, described below.

Basic Usage: Zero learning curve

If you know how to use the enumerate environment LaTeX provides, you already know how to use example-sentences:

    \item This is the first example.
    \item This is second example.

This will produce:

Two examples

Nesting works, of course, up to three levels deep:

    \item \begin{examples}
               \item An example with sub-examples.
               \item \begin{examples}
                       \item And sub-sub examples, like this one.
                       \item And a second one.

which will render as:

Sub- and sub-sub examples

And, as usual, you can give an optional argument to \item to manually specify the label (e.g., if you are quoting an example, and want to use the original example number):

    \item[(23)] This example will be numbered (23).

In fact, this is almost all you need to know in order to produce everyting that example-sentences can produce. The only additional thing to know is how to typeset diacritic marks indicating acceptability and such. You can do this explicitly by using the \diacritic{} command:

    \item \diacritic{*} Bad sentence this sounds.

Diacritics are typeset in the space between example number and example. So the above will render as:

Example with diacritic

However, explicit use of the \diacritic{} command is discouraged. Instead, you should use the convenience macros described below.

Syntactic sugar: Some enhancements for \item

A number of enhancements of the basic \item command are available, unless your LaTeX installation is truly ancient.

Diacritics with \item<>

All variants of \item allow for an optional argument in angle brackets containing a diacritic/acceptability mark:

    \item<*> Bad sentence this sounds.

This renders as

Example with diacritic

This style is preferred over the explicit use of \diacritic{}.

Assigning labels with \item()

The basic \label{} command works as it always does. However, a more convenient way to assign labels to examples is provided. Simply supply the desired label in parentheses after \item:

    \item(harlem) If you want to go to Harlem, you have to take 
                  the A train.

This is equivalent to:

    \item\label{harlem} If you want to go to Harlem, you have to take 
                        the A train.

Of course, this style can be used with diacritics, \item(labelname)<*> is valid and produces the expected result. The same is true for \item[exnumber]<*>.

Referencing examples in the text: \ref{...}, \ex{...}, and \exref{...}

The standard \ref{} command works for examples. However, it produces the (sub)example number without enclosing parentheses. This means that it would have to be used in running text with explicit parentheses:

The sentence in (\ref{harlem}) is curious in that ...

This is by design, because it is sometimes necessary to access the example identifier itself, for example if one uses fancy packages for references such as cleverref.

However, the package provides two handy shortcuts for example references. Instead of writing (\ref{harlem}), you can simply write either:

The sentence in \ex{harlem} is curious in that ...


The sentence in \exref{harlem} is curious in that ...

And, as an added nicety, you can provide arbitrary material that is appended to the example label as an optional argument:

\ex{imperatives}[a-f] show the varied uses of imperatives.

Typesetting dialogues with \begin{conversation} ... \end{conversation}

Semanticists and pragmaticists often need to typeset short dialogues, like this:

Example of a conversation

If you load example-sentences with the conversations option, a new environment conversations becomes available, and the above can be typeset as:

    [A country road. A tree.]
        \item[Estragon:] Nothing to be done.
        \item[Vladimir:] I am beginning to come round to that opinion. All my 
        life I've tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.

        So you are here again. 
        \item[Estragon:] Am I? 

Configuration options are described in the file


Currently, the package does not provide its own support for aligned glosses. However, you can use cgloss4e.sty from gb4e together with example-sentences. Then you can use the \gll and \glll macros as usual:

    \item \gll Das ist kein Beispielsatz.\\
               This is no   {example sentence}\\
          \trans `This is not an example sentence.`

Note: As of this writing, there is a problem with diacritic marks. A workaround is described below under "Known Issues". Alternatively, you can use Alexis Dimitriadis's cgloss.sty, which is a hacked version of cgloss4e that prevents the problem.


The examples environment is highly configurable. It is simply a clone of the standard enumerate environment, created by enumitem. As a result, all of the configuration options of that package are available.

For example, if you want to add a bit more space between example number for one particular example list (e.g., to accommodate and extra-long diacritic), you can simply pass configuration options to the example environment:

    \item<*****> Sentence very a bad is.

If you want to globally change how lists look, you can use enumitem's \setlist command. Note that this command replaces the list configuration, rather than overwriting individual parameters. Hence, the following won't quite work, because it deletes the settings for how example numbers should be formatted, and so forth:


To make it easier to overwrite single settings example-sentences adds configuration options that hold the default values. So instead, write:


ex1defaults holds the default settings for examples of level 1, ex2defaults and ex3defaults those for nested example lists. exdefaults holds the defaults for all lists.

For details about the many configuration options, see the documentation of enumitem.

Package Options

Compatibility options: Turning of convenience commands

One of the aims of this package is to be compatible with as many LaTeX packages as possible. This has limits, obviously, whenever one of the convenience commands are defined (or modified) by another package. For that reason, the convenience commands can be turned off individually, using package options.

Leaving \item alone: the normalitem option

To provide the extended behavior for \item described above, LaTeX's own implementation of this command needs to be overwritten (this happens only in example lists, however). If you use any other packages that modify this command (beamer comes to mind), there could be conflicts and other problems.

For this reason, the loading the package with the option normalitem
(i.e., \usepackage[normalitem]{example-sentences}) tells the package to not touch the \item command. In this case, the command \exitem can be used in place of \item, which has all of the advanced behavior of \item described above.

Turning off the short \ex reference command with the noex option

Since \ex is so short, it is not unlikely that other packages define a command with this name. In this case, you might want to prevent example-sentences from defining \ex as short way to create references to examples, and use the longer name \exref instead (which always works).


For the ascets: The compat option

If you pass the compat option to example-sentences, it will define the new examples-environment, but do nothing else: No any enhancements to \item, no reference commands besides the standard \ref, not even \exitem.

This is mainly intended for cases where there are unexpected incompatibilities with other packages, but it may be useful also in case you want to define your own convenience commands.

The enumitemize option

Standardly, example-sentences loads the enumitem package with the loadonly option, which ensures that the standard LaTeX lists (enumerate, itemize and description) are not enhanced by enumitem.

If you want to change this, pass the enumitemize option to example-sentences.

Other options

All options besides the one described above will be passed through to enumitem.


Unless you (La)TeX installation is truly ancient, you should be able to use example-sentences without further ado. For the record, here is a list of the required packages:

Compatibility with beamer

beamer is a powerful package for typesetting slide-style presentations. As is the case with many packages, a few things have to be kept in mind when using example-sentences with beamer.

beamer's examples-environment

By default, beamer defines an environment called examples and, which typeset their contents in a block with the heading "Examples". example-sentences overwrites this environment.

To use the beamer-style examples-environment when example-sentences is loaded, you can use the alias beamerexamples:

  This is a example in the beamer-style.

Using beamerarticle.sty

beamer provides a style-file beamerarticle.sty, which enables the use of various beamer commands in documents that are typeset with other document classes, like article. This makes it easier to share code between beamer slidesand an article or handout.

To make sure that example-sentences plays nicely with beamerarticle.sty, you have two options:

  1. (recommended) Load beamerarticle.sty before example-sentences.sty. Then everything will work as usual.

  2. Load beamerarticle.sty with the notheorems option, like so: \usepackage[notheorems]{beamerarticle}.

    This means you have to manually declare any theorem-style environments that you want to use. However, beamer will still apply its enhancements (e.g., boxes) to such manually-defined environments.

Known issues

Beginning an example with [...] or (...)

Many linguists (semanticists and pragmaticists in particular) like to start their examples with a description of the context, enclosed in square brackets [...] or, more rarely, parenthes (...). This is fine, but you have to take extra care if you are using \item without any kind of argument (as you also have to do with enumerate lists).

The problem is that, in the following, [This is a description of the context] will be interpreted as the optional argument of \item (since LaTeX ignores spaces before the first argument).

  \item [This is a description of the context]\\
        This is the example.

The recommendes way to avoid this problem is to give all your examples a label via the convenient \item(...) command. The following will work without problems:

  \item(mylabel) [This a description of the context]\\
        This is the example.

Alternatively, simply put a pair of braces around the context description:

  \item {[This is a description of the context]}\\
        This is the example.

Diacritics with cgloss4e

As of this writing, example-sentences does not correctly typeset diacritics when used together with cgloss4e.sty. The best workaround is to use use Alexis Dimitriadis's cgloss.sty in place of cgloss4e.

Alternatively, include the diacritic manually in the glossed sentence, like so:

        \gll  \diacritic{*} Ungrammatisch dieser ist Satz.\\
               {}           Ungrammatical this   is  sentence\\
        \trans (intended) `This sentence is ungrammatical.'

With this, the diacritic will be typeset correctly (i.e., set in the space between example and number). I am currently working on a better way around this problem.


It is custom to number examples in footnotes differently from the main text: Level one examples have lowercase roman numerals as labels, with counting starting anew for each footnote.

This is difficult to achieve in the general case. example-sentences patches the standard LaTeX footnote commands (i.e., \footnote and footnotetext), for all other methods of typesetting notes, you will have to ensure yourself that the command \footnotizeexamples is called at the beginning of each note (or before the first example) and \unfootnotizeexamples is called at the end of each footnote (or after the last example).

Note on implementation: The example environments used in footnotes is in fact entirely different from the main examples (it is just mostly configured in the same way). If you want to modify the appearance of examples in footnotes, you'll need to use \setlist[fnexamples]{} / \setlist[fnexamples,1]{}, etc. Make sure that you do not use the ex1defaults/ex2defaults/ex3defaults keywords in this case, as this will reuse the main counters. Instead, use fnex1defaults/fnex2defaults/fnex3defaults.


A LaTeX package for linguistic examples







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