The below function when applied to a list of two elements, will output the maximum between the two:

If[#1 > #2, ##] &    

For example:

In[1] : If[#1 > #2, ##] & [22,21]
Out[1]: 22 

In[2] : If[#1 > #2, ##] & [21,22]
Out[2]: 22 

However I don't really get what's the use of the ## here. In the first output, why isn't it return Sequence[22,21] instead? And in the second output, how does the function knows to return 22, when there isn't a return statement for false condition in the If function ?


2 Answers 2


The answer is simple: First, you really need to look up the documentation of ##. It means "take all arguments". But more importantly, you can use the property that a > b stays unevaluated when neither true or false can be computed. So check this out:

If[#1 > #2, ##] &[a, b]
(* If[a > b, a, b] *)

Do you see how ## converts this construct into a simple "if a>b then a else b"?

Furthermore, Sequence[a,b,c] is Mathematica's way of saying "a sequence of arguments that can be fed into a function". As you might know, it is not possible to evaluate the input a,b,c without error. For normal functions, which don't have the attribute HoldAllComplete, a Sequence[...] expression is always flattened out.

func[Sequence[a, b, c]]
(* func[a, b, c] *)

This is exactly what happened in your If. When you understand that

## &[22, 21]
(* Sequence[22, 21] *)

and you know it's turned into a real sequence (without the Sequence around it) when inside a function, you understand what happened in your case.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since you explicitly mention HoldAllComplete, it might be worth mentioning SequenceHold as well $\endgroup$
    – Lukas Lang
    Oct 12, 2019 at 18:49

To understand how the SlotSequence (##) works, use Trace

Trace[If[#1 > #2, ##] &[22, 21]]

enter image description here

Trace[If[#1 > #2, ##] &[21, 22]]

enter image description here


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