Why does

x[{1, 2}] /. {x[l_] -> Map[func, l]}

{1, 2}

not behave as expected, while for example

x[{1, 2}] /. {x[l_] -> Inner[func, l, l]}

func[1, 1] + func[2, 2]

gives the expected result?

I know that I can fix the first example by using :> instead of ->, but I don't understand why.

Is there another way to make the example with Map work as in the case of Inner?

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    – bbgodfrey
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 12:27

2 Answers 2


Because in your first case,


will evaluate to verbatim l while building up the replacement rules. When the replacement is then done, the replacement rule used is x[l_] -> l.

My guess why Map[func, l] evaluates the way it does is that Map works by "inserting" func into it's second argument at the default mapping level, 1. As there is no such level because l is an atomic symbol, the result is just l.

In the second case

Inner[func, l, l]

Inner does not evaluate to something different, so it survives until the l is replaced with the value from the left side of the rule.

Using :> is really the right way to go when there are patterns on the left hand side.

  • $\begingroup$ Ok, but why does Map[func,l] evaluate to l in this case? $\endgroup$
    – Severin
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Severin see edit. $\endgroup$
    – Malte Lenz
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 12:51

Malte Lenz is correct; there are no level one expressions in l therefore the Map operation appears inert. (The default levelspec of Map is {1}.) Observe that if a levelspec of {0} is used the func is applied:

Map[func, l, {0}]

If you are asking why conceptually Map works this way I can only say that in my experience the existing behavior has been convenient and powerful many times. If for whatever reason you want a Map analogue that does not evaluate until the operation is non-inert I propose:

delayMap[f_, expr_, lev_: {1}, opt : OptionsPattern[Map]] /;
  {} =!= Position[expr, _, lev, 1, Heads -> OptionValue[Map, {opt}, Heads]] := 
     Map[f, expr, lev, opt]


test = delayMap2[func, l]
delayMap[func, l]
l = {1, 2, 3};

{func[1], func[2], func[3]}

The somewhat baroque definition is primarily to handle the Heads option of Map.


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