I'm trying to figure out a nice way to add a mix of symbolic and explicit vectors/matrices without mathematica treating the symbolic vectors as scalars and promoting them to constant arrays.

For example:

In: Assuming[x \[Element] Matrices[{2, 2}], x + IdentityMatrix[2]]

Out: {{1 + x, x}, {x, 1 + x}}

Of course I could do:

In: HoldForm[x + IdentityMatrix[2]]

and not release the hold until I replace everything with its explicit value, but I am hoping that there is a cleaner solution.

  • $\begingroup$ What would be an acceptable output for your first line of code? $\endgroup$
    – MarcoB
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ x + {{1,0},{0,1}} would be nice. Doing so in a way the was idiomatic/self-documenting would be perfect. Ideally, I don't want people reading my code to have to guess why I used a HoldForm (even without a comment :)) $\endgroup$
    – Reid Hayes
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Would Inactivate[Plus][x, IdentityMatrix[2] do what you want? You can always Activate the "frozen" operators down the road when you have values for your variables. $\endgroup$
    – MarcoB
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ that's pretty nice, but I'm sure there must be an even more idiomatic way. $\endgroup$
    – Reid Hayes
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


Here are two possible approaches:

You could inactivate Plus as follows:

expr = Inactive[Plus][x, IdentityMatrix[2]]

formatted output

x = {{1, 1}, {0, 0}};

inactive sum


after reactivation

As you can see, the inactive form will format very similarly to a "normal" plus sign, with a slight color change to indicate its inactive status.

Alternatively, you could use an operator without built-in meaning to represent your addition, only replacing it with Plus when you are ready to do so.

For instance, one could use CirclePlus, which is also formatted to a nice infix graphical representation reminiscent of a plus sign, for readability:

expr = x \[CirclePlus] IdentityMatrix[2]

formats to

formatted circleplus

and similarly CirclePlus[x, IdentityMatrix[2]] formats to the same result.

You can then assign values to x whenever you are ready in the course of your calculations:

x = {{1, 1}, {0, 0}};

no meaning for circle plus

When you are ready to "reactivate" your operator, replace it with Plus:

expr /. CirclePlus -> Plus

(* Out: {{2, 1}, {0, 1}} *)

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