# Can we use letter with a subscript as a variable in Mathematica?

I tried

Subscript[a, 0] = 1
(* 1 *)

Clear[Subscript[a, 0]]

       During evaluation of Clear::ssym: Subscript[a, 0] is not a symbol or a string. >>

Clear[a]
Subscript[a, 0]
(* 1 *)


Any idea?

• This probably should have been marked as a duplicate question on stackoverflow. See  (and maybe ) Should we also migrate the other post and/or merge? Or are we happy with the question being covered on both sites? Of course, @Spartacus' answer covers most variations of this question. +1! – Simon Jan 30 '12 at 23:24
• This is contained in Mr. Wizard's answer below, but the short and sweet of it that does exactly what I want is: Type your variable name, e.g. "a", then CTRL and - to type your subscript. You can assign a value using ":=", but to remove the assignment the Clear command won't work, but Unset command will work. – Pixel May 7 '15 at 7:47

Yes you can, with limitations.

You have at least three different ways to make an assignment to a subscripted symbol a0 :

1. make a rule for Subscript

2. make a rule for a

3. "symbolize" a0 using the Notation package/palette

In each case below, when I write e.g. Subscript[a, 1] this can also be entered as a1 by typing a then Ctrl+_ then 1.

When you write:

Subscript[a, 1] = "dog";


You make an assignment to Subscript:

DownValues[Subscript]


{HoldPattern[a1] :> "dog"}

You make a rule for a by using TagSet:

a /: Subscript[a, 2] = "cat";

UpValues[a]


{HoldPattern[a2] :> "cat"}

If you use the Notation palette you mess with underlying Box forms behind the scenes, allowing for assignment to OwnValues: Each of these can be cleared with either Unset or TagUnset:

Subscript[a, 1] =.

a /: Subscript[a, 2] =. • It's worth noting that you can directly type a shortcut for subscripts, but I don't know how to show this here. Namely: a<sub>3</sub> = "lion"; where "<sub>3</sub> should be an actual subscript, typed in the Mathematica Front End by first typing Ctrl _ . – murray Jan 30 '12 at 18:38
• is it good MMA form to convert subscript as quickly as possible to something like a5 and then at the last step for output output the result with a subscript, so do the majority of manipulations with identifiers like a5? – Manuel --Moe-- G Jan 5 '15 at 19:00
• @Manuel--Moe--G That would work but usually it is better to use e.g. a which makes conversion in either direction much simpler and faster. However there are places (like Module) that actual Symbols are needed. Also, I haven't looked at the internals of the Notation palette in some years but I seem to recall that the use of Symbolize is performing this kind of translation itself, such that Symbols are used in place of Subscripts during computation, then formatted again as Subscripts for output, so look at that before you "reinvent the wheel" as it were. – Mr.Wizard Jan 6 '15 at 3:59
• Is there any way that we could clear by ClearAll["Global*"]? – H. R. Jul 14 '16 at 16:18
• @H.R. If you use the TagSet method the rule is attached to e.g. a, and if a is in the Global context ClearAll["Global*"] will clear that rule. – Mr.Wizard Jul 15 '16 at 1:11

You can also do this:

<< Notation
Symbolize[ParsedBoxWrapper[SubscriptBox["_", "_"]]]


If you want to, you can import the Notation package first, then use the Symbolize function, so you don't have to use the ParsedBoxWrapper function, and just enter _,(ctrl+_),_`. What this does, is set a pattern matching a subscripted character as a symbol. Mathematica will then treat expressions matching this form as a single variable.

This doesn't seem to affect functions that use subscripts in their definition such as the partial differential function.

• For what it's worth this is mentioned as point #3 in my answer, then illustrated further down. – Mr.Wizard Jan 14 '16 at 22:34
• I saw, and it was very useful. I just thought I would expand it so that any subscripted pattern would be interpreted as a symbol. – Alex DB Jan 18 '16 at 17:54
• Oh, I see. Okay +1 :-) – Mr.Wizard Jan 19 '16 at 3:18
• (+1) Nicely done! :) I was looking for this since the day I started using Mathematica! :) – H. R. Jul 14 '16 at 23:04