Lesson 15

Dealing with errors

This lesson shows some common errors in LaTeX documents, what they mean, and how to work around them.

Unlike a typical word processing system, LaTeX has an Edit/Run/View cycle closer to working with programming language compilers, and as in programming users may make errors in their input and so need to deal with error messages reported by the system.

Common errors

This page gives examples of several common errors. Each error example has some discussion about the form of the error message.

It may be instructive to try the examples but also use the edit features to try to fix the documents and test that you can resolve the errors.

pdflatex not found

A common first error that people see when starting is:

'pdflatex' is not recognized as an internal or external command,
operable program or batch file.

on Windows or

bash: pdflatex: command not found

on Linux.

This is not a TeX error but an operating system error saying that TeX is not installed or not found. A common mistake is to install an editor such as TeXworks or TeXShop but without installing a TeX system such as TeX Live or MiKTeX.

Anatomy of a error message




My command is used here \mycommand.


This produces a multi-line message in the log file.

! Undefined control sequence.
\mycommand ->\textbold 
l.8 My command is used here \mycommand

Note here that TeX does not see the error at the point that the definition is made; and in fact if \mycommand is defined but not used, no error would be raised. So although the error is reported on line 7, the “real” error is in the definition on line 3, so it is important to see the whole error message.

Beware that some editors show one line “summaries” of the error log. This can be particularly misleading if shown as

line 7: undefined command: ...\mycommand

as it makes it appear that \mycommand is not defined.

Mismatched braces





Here the error is a mismatched } used to end the optional argument. The closing brace causes LaTeX’s option parsing to fail and you get an internal and not that helpful error:

! Argument of \@fileswith@ptions has an extra }.

While the error description is unhelpful; the following two lines do accurately display the location of the error by the use of the linebreak showing how far TeX had read:

l.4 \usepackage[leqno}

Missing files





This produces the error

! LaTeX Error: File `amsmathz.sty' not found.

Note: the same error may be caused by two different causes; a simple typo as here, which may be corrected by fixing the package name, or that the file really is missing and needs to be installed on the current system.

Blank lines in display math



Some text




Produces the slightly mysterious error

! Missing $ inserted.

But the fix is simple, blank lines are not allowed in math environments and should be deleted.


Attempt to fix the errors in the supplied examples.

Produce small documents with different errors and note the form of the error messages.