Sign up ×
Mathematica Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Mathematica. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When I type

foo[] := Module[{Subscript[a, 1] = "x"}, 0]; 

I get the expected error "only assignments to symbols are allowed". I understand the error.

enter image description here

But why I do not get the same error when I type the same assignment in the notebook?

Subscript[a, 1] = "x"

No error and no beep.

enter image description here

What is the difference? I'm using version 8.04 on Windows.


The non-localized trick shown by Szabolcs answer worked for me on a demo. Here is a screen shot of the result. What I was trying to do is to typeset some information about a solver, some matrix equation, and I thought why not take advantage of MatrixForm and Grid's nice way of typesetting things, and display the information right there in the demo screen as an option? This is easier than putting it in the text section below where it can hard to get to as I have so many such things.

Here is an example of the code and the result. You can see I did not localized these symbols in the module which builds this expression. I just started trying this idea, but so far I am happy that it worked. This below is only an example, not cleaned up, just wanted to see if the demo will work.

enter image description here

share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

This is because only symbols can be localized by Module. It is not about assignment, but localization.

Subscript[a, 1] is not a symbol, but a compound expression, so:

Module[{Subscript[a, 1] = "x"}, 0] (* <-- not allowed *)

Module[{}, Subscript[a, 1] = "x"]  (* <-- allowed but not localized *)

I agree that the error you got may be a bit confusing.

A somewhat ugly workaround is Module[{Subscript}, Subscript[a, 1] = "x"] or you may try to use the Notation` package to create symbol names with subscripts in them. A word of warning though: in some cases, Module variables that have DownValues do not get destroyed when the Module finishes evaluating. For more information, see the end of the Module section in this answer by Leonid Shifrin, and the comments on that answer.

share|improve this answer
You probably meant Module[{a}, Subscript[a, 1] = "x"] in place of Module[{Subscript}, Subscript[a, 1] = "x"]? – Leonid Shifrin Jan 28 '12 at 16:30
@Leonid No, I meant what I wrote, and I agree that it is a hack. But it allows both displaying subscripted variables as such, localization, and usage in a Manipulate. If we write Module[{a}, Subscript[a, 1] = "x"], that'll be leaky. Module[{Subscript}, Subscript[a, 1] = "x"] renames subscript, and won't leak so easily. – Szabolcs Jan 28 '12 at 16:40
It won't be more leaky (assuming you meant garbage collection), in this case. Referencing symbols in UI components is enough to prevent their collection, since UI components by themselves are global objects (they are expressions interpreted in a certain way by the Front-End). – Leonid Shifrin Jan 28 '12 at 17:05
@Leonid Yes, I remember when we talked about Temporary symbols with DownValues not always getting collected. But I think in many use cases these would not need to be referenced. – Szabolcs Jan 28 '12 at 17:08
Perhaps. +1 either way. – Leonid Shifrin Jan 28 '12 at 17:17

Module only works with Symbols.

Head[ Subscript[a, 1] ]

Perhaps you can use InheritedBlock:

 Subscript[a, 1] = "x";
{HoldPattern[a1] :> "x"}
share|improve this answer

It's just a mattern of Module's syntax. You'll see that the message was generated from Module and not from Set (=)


In fact, Set doesn't even seem to be called internally when you run a regular Module (even though Trace suggests it does)

We disable Set but it still works

In[42]:= ClearAll[x, y];
 Module[{x = 8},
  y = 9;
  {x, y}

Out[43]= {8, y}
share|improve this answer

In addition to the explanations above you can avoid this by using the Notations package. Cut and pasting code would be confusing I think -- things don't seem to paste as I would like them too -- so I'll paste the screen grab

enter image description here

So now the subscripted variable is recognized as a symbol and the problem goes away.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.