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Unevaluated, Plus and Times (was Re: Re: Re: Re: Mathematica language issues)

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  • Subject: [mg53173] Unevaluated, Plus and Times (was Re: [mg53112] Re: [mg53050] Re: Re: Mathematica language issues)
  • From: "Fred Simons" <f.h.simons at>
  • Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004 06:41:53 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <> <>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

The discussion on the behaviour of Unevaluated in cases where it should not 
be used lasts already for a long time. Though irrelevant there are some 
interesting aspects in it. The general behaviour of Unevaluated has been 
explained by Andrzej Kozlowsky. Let me reformulate it very short and 
therefore inaccurate: when during the evaluation process the expression 
changes, the arguments that originally were wrapped in Unevaluated are not 
rewrapped. It is very important to note that changes only due to attributes 
do not count as an change.

Examples have been given to demonstrate that Times and Plus behave 
differently. For example the expression Unevaluated[z]+2. Mathematica looks 
at z+2. The terms are reordered due to the attribute Orderless so 
Mathematica arrives at 2+z. That is the end of the evaluation. The change is 
only due to the attributes so we expect rewrapping of Unevaluated, that is 
the result 2+Unevaluated[z]. But the outcome is 2+z.

In my previous mail I tried to explain this behaviour from the fact that the 
evaluation of expressions with head Plus or Times is slightly different. 
According to Bobby, that explanation was not very clear, so in this mail I 
try to do it better.

There is evidence that as soon as the head Times or Plus of an expression is 
recognized, Mathematica does some sort of pre-evaluation of the arguments. 
All numerical arguments are multplied or added and the result is placed 
befor the other arguments. Only after this pre-evaluation the attributes of 
Times and Plus are applied and the evaluation continues.

I will only consider the function Plus. The pre-evaluation of the arguments 
can be seen from the following function preplus, in which the rules used by 
Mathematica are 'caught':

preplus[x___] := Block[{Plus}, plus@@Plus[x]]

Now we can imitate the evaluation of an expression with head Plus by first 
doing the pre-evaluation with the function preplus and then apply Plus to 
the result.

Here are some examples.

Evaluation of the expression 2+Unevaluated[z] is done in the following way:

Plus @@ %


The pre-evaluation does not change the arguments, so in the input of Plus 
the argument z is still wrapped in Unevaluated. Plus do not change the 
expression so at the end the argument z is wrapped in Unevaluated.

The expression 1+1+Unevaluated[z] gives a different result:

Plus @@ %


The pre-evaluation changed the arguments so Unevaluated has completely 
disappeared in the input of Plus.

The expression 2+Unevaluated[z+2]:

preplus[2, Unevaluated[z+2]]
Plus @@ %


Here the pre-evaluation has no effect, so after applying the attributes Flat 
and Orderless, Plus is called with arguments 2, 2 and z. Plus has no rules 
for these combination of argument, so it has to return Plus[2,2, 
Unevaluated[z]]. But then  the evaluation of course continues:

preplus[2, 2, Unevaluated[z]]
Plus @@ %


Pre-evaluation of the arguments gives a new set of arguments, so z is no 
longer wrapped in Unevaluated, and the outcome is 4+z.

My conclusion is that the result of all curious examples with head Plus or 
Times where some of the arguments supplied with Unevaluated can be predicted 
in the way Andrzej has described when one takes into account the 
pre-evaluation, as I did in the above examples.

Fred Simons
Eindhoven Ubiversity of Technology 

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