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Re: Redefining the minus operator

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg52046] Re: Redefining the minus operator
  • From: David Bailey <dave at>
  • Date: Mon, 8 Nov 2004 03:13:35 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <cmkkn6$j99$>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

Ben Kovitz wrote:
> Is there a way in Mathematica to redefine the minus sign to stand for a 
> function of your choosing?
> For example, I'd like to be able to do something like this:
> In[1]:= Subtract[a_, b_] := MINUS[a, b]
> In[2]:= FullForm[x - y]
> Out[2]:= MINUS[x, y]
> In[3]:= 1 - 0
> Out[3]:= MINUS[1, 0]
> What actually happens is:
> In[2]:= FullForm[x - y]
> Out[2]:= PLUS[x, Times[-1, y]]
> In[3]:= 1 - 0
> Out[3]:= 1
> Naturally, I'd also like to redefine the plus sign, too.  When Plus[a_, 
> b_] is redefined as PLUS[a,b], then x + y indeed evaluates as PLUS[x, 
> y].  But Mathematica still simplifies if there are numbers in the 
> expression: FullForm[1 + 0] comes out as 1.
> Ben Kovitz
> Humboldt State University

This is definitely an unwise thing to do unless it is just for interest 
or you have a very specialised application in mind. However, the first 
thing to realise is that you don't want to redefine Plus - that is too 
late in the translation process and also extremely disruptive to the 
rest of Mathematica. What you need to do is add extra definitions to 
MakeExpression to change the translation from BoxForm. The following 
code is designed to work in StandardForm:

restructure[{a_}] := a;
restructure[{a_, "+", b_, c___}] :=
restructure[{RowBox[{"PLUS", "[", a, ",", b, "]"}], c}];
restructure[{a_, "-", b_, c___}] :=
          restructure[{RowBox[{"MINUS", "[", a, ",", b, "]"}], c}];
restructure[{"+", b_, c___}] :=
restructure[{RowBox[{"PLUS", "[", b, "]"}], c}];
restructure[{ "-", b_, c___}] :=
restructure[{RowBox[{"MINUS", "[", b, "]"}], c}];

MakeExpression[RowBox[s : {___, "+" | "-", ___}],
         StandardForm] := MakeExpression[restructure[s], StandardForm]

Notice that this code will also translate +a into PLUS[a] and -a into 
MINUS[a]. Also 1+2 is translated into PLUS[1,2]

I would be interested to know what you want to do with this code - as 
there may be better ways to solve your problem.

Please note that this is a rather unusual piece of code, so TEST IT WELL 
before you rely on it.

David Bailey

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