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Symbol Reference

Asterisk — *

An asterisk in a filename specification is used as a wildcard specifier, as described below.

Filename Wildcard

Wildcards are generally used in file operations that act on multiple files or folders. They usually appear in the file or folder specification. MATLAB® matches all characters in the name exactly except for the wildcard character *, which can match any one or more characters.

To locate all files with names that start with 'january_' and have a mat file extension, use


You can also use wildcards with the who and whos functions. To get information on all variables with names starting with 'image' and ending with 'Offset', use

whos image*Offset

At — @

The @ sign signifies either a function handle constructor or a folder that supports a MATLAB class.

Function Handle Constructor

The @ operator forms a handle to either the named function that follows the @ sign, or to the anonymous function that follows the @ sign.

Function Handles in General.  Function handles are commonly used in passing functions as arguments to other functions. Construct a function handle by preceding the function name with an @ sign:

fhandle = @myfun

For more information, see Create Function Handle.

Handles to Anonymous Functions.  Anonymous functions give you a quick means of creating simple functions without having to create your function in a file each time. You can construct an anonymous function and a handle to that function using the syntax

fhandle = @(arglist) body

where body defines the body of the function and arglist is the list of arguments you can pass to the function.

See Anonymous Functions for more information.

Class Folder Designator

An @ sign can indicate the name of a class folder, such as


See the documentation on Class and Path Folders for more information.

Colon — :

The colon operator generates a sequence of numbers that you can use in creating or indexing into arrays. SeeGenerating a Numeric Sequence for more information on using the colon operator.

Numeric Sequence Range

Generate a sequential series of regularly spaced numbers from first to last using the syntax first:last. For an incremental sequence from 6 to 17, use

N = 6:17

Numeric Sequence Step

Generate a sequential series of numbers, each number separated by a step value, using the syntax first:step:last. For a sequence from 2 through 38, stepping by 4 between each entry, use

N = 2:4:38

Indexing Range Specifier

Index into multiple rows or columns of a matrix using the colon operator to specify a range of indices:

B = A(7, 1:5);          % Read columns 1-5 of row 7.
B = A(4:2:8, 1:5);      % Read columns 1-5 of rows 4, 6, and 8.
B = A(:, 1:5);          % Read columns 1-5 of all rows.

Conversion to Column Vector

Convert a matrix or array to a column vector using the colon operator as a single index:

A = rand(3,4);
B = A(:);

Preserving Array Shape on Assignment

Using the colon operator on the left side of an assignment statement, you can assign new values to array elements without changing the shape of the array:

A = rand(3,4);
A(:) = 1:12;

Comma — ,

A comma is used to separate the following types of elements.

Row Element Separator

When constructing an array, use a comma to separate elements that belong in the same row:

A = [5.92, 8.13, 3.53]

Array Index Separator

When indexing into an array, use a comma to separate the indices into each dimension:

X = A(2, 7, 4)

Function Input and Output Separator

When calling a function, use a comma to separate output and input arguments:

function [data, text] = xlsread(file, sheet, range, mode)

Command or Statement Separator

To enter more than one MATLAB command or statement on the same line, separate each command or statement with a comma:

for k = 1:10,   sum(A(k)),   end

Curly Braces — { }

Use curly braces to construct or get the contents of cell arrays.

Cell Array Constructor

To construct a cell array, enclose all elements of the array in curly braces:

C = {[2.6 4.7 3.9], rand(8)*6, 'C. Coolidge'}

Cell Array Indexing

Index to a specific cell array element by enclosing all indices in curly braces:

A = C{4,7,2}

For more information, see Cell Arrays

Dot — .

The single dot operator has the following different uses in MATLAB.

Decimal Point

MATLAB uses a period to separate the integral and fractional parts of a number.

Structure Field Definition

Add fields to a MATLAB structure by following the structure name with a dot and then a field name:

funds(5,2).bondtype = 'Corporate';

For more information, see Structures

Object Method Specifier

Specify the properties of an instance of a MATLAB class using the object name followed by a dot, and then the property name:

val = asset.current_value

Dot-Dot — ..

Two dots in sequence refer to the parent of the current folder.

Parent Folder

Specify the folder immediately above your current folder using two dots. For example, to go up two levels in the folder tree and down into the test folder, use

cd ..\..\test

Dot-Dot-Dot (Ellipsis) — ...

A series of three consecutive periods (...) is the line continuation operator in MATLAB. This is often referred to as an ellipsis, but it should be noted that the line continuation operator is a three-character operator and is different from the single-character ellipsis represented by the Unicode character U+2026.

Line Continuation

Continue any MATLAB command or expression by placing an ellipsis at the end of the line to be continued:

sprintf('The current value of %s is %d', ... 
         vname, value)

Entering Long Character Vectors.  You cannot use an ellipsis within single quotes to continue a character vector to the next line:

quote = 'This is not allowed and will generate an ... 
   error in MATLAB.'

To enter text that extends beyond a single line, piece together shorter character vectors using either the concatenation operator ([]) or the sprintf function.

Here are two examples:

quote1 = [
 'Tiger, tiger, burning bright in the forests of the night,' ...
 'what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?'];
quote2 = sprintf('%s%s%s', ...
 'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree,', ...
 'where Alph, the sacred river, ran ', ...
 'through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea.');

Defining Arrays.  MATLAB interprets the ellipsis as a space character. For statements that define arrays or cell arrays within [] or {} operators, a space character separates array elements. For example,

not_valid = [1 2 zeros...

is equivalent to

not_valid = [1 2 zeros (1,3)]

which returns an error. Place the ellipsis so that the interpreted statement is valid, such as

valid = [1 2 ...

Dot-Parentheses — .( )

Use dot-parentheses to specify the name of a dynamic structure field.

Dynamic Structure Fields

Sometimes it is useful to reference structures with field names that can vary. For example, the referenced field might be passed as an argument to a function. Dynamic field names specify a variable name for a structure field.

The variable fundtype shown here is a dynamic field name:

type = funds(5,2).(fundtype);

See Generate Field Names from Variables for more information.

Exclamation Point — !

The exclamation point precedes operating system commands that you want to execute from within MATLAB.

Shell Escape

The exclamation point initiates a shell escape function. Such a function is to be performed directly by the operating system:

!rmdir oldtests

For more information, see Shell Escape Functions.

Parentheses — ( )

Parentheses are used mostly for indexing into elements of an array or for specifying arguments passed to a called function. Parenthesis also control the order of operations, and can group a vector visually (such as x = (1:10)) without calling a concatenation function.

Array Indexing

When parentheses appear to the right of a variable name, they are indices into the array stored in that variable:

A(2, 7, 4)

Function Input Arguments

When parentheses follow a function name in a function declaration or call, the enclosed list contains input arguments used by the function:

function sendmail(to, subject, message, attachments)

Percent — %

The percent sign is most commonly used to indicate nonexecutable text within the body of a program. This text is normally used to include comments in your code. Two percent signs, %%, serve as a cell delimiter described in Run Code Sections. Some functions also interpret the percent sign as a conversion specifier.

Single Line Comments

Precede any one-line comments in your code with a percent sign. MATLAB does not execute anything that follows a percent sign (that is, unless the sign is quoted, '%'):

% The purpose of this routine is to compute 
% the value of ...

See Add Comments to Programs for more information.

Conversion Specifiers

Some functions, like sscanf and sprintf, precede conversion specifiers with the percent sign:

sprintf('%s = %d', name, value)

Percent-Brace — %{ %}

The %{ and %} symbols enclose a block of comments that extend beyond one line.

Block Comments

Enclose any multiline comments with percent followed by an opening or closing brace.

The purpose of this routine is to compute
the value of ... 

    Note   With the exception of whitespace characters, the %{ and %} operators must appear alone on the lines that immediately precede and follow the block of help text. Do not include any other text on these lines.

Plus — +

The + sign appears most frequently as an arithmetic operator, but is also used to designate the names of package folders. For more information, see Packages Create Namespaces.

Semicolon — ;

The semicolon can be used to construct arrays, suppress output from a MATLAB command, or to separate commands entered on the same line.

Array Row Separator

When used within square brackets to create a new array or concatenate existing arrays, the semicolon creates a new row in the array:

A = [5, 8; 3, 4]
A =
     5     8
     3     4

Output Suppression

When placed at the end of a command, the semicolon tells MATLAB not to display any output from that command. In this example, MATLAB does not display the resulting 100-by-100 matrix:

A = ones(100, 100);

Command or Statement Separator

Like the comma operator, you can enter more than one MATLAB command on a line by separating each command with a semicolon. MATLAB suppresses output for those commands terminated with a semicolon, and displays the output for commands terminated with a comma.

In this example, assignments to variables A and C are terminated with a semicolon, and thus do not display. Because the assignment to B is comma-terminated, the output of this one command is displayed:

A = 12.5;  B = 42.7,  C = 1.25;
B =

Single Quotes — ' '

Single quotes are the constructor symbol for MATLAB character arrays.

Character Array Constructor

MATLAB constructs a character array from all characters enclosed in single quotes. If only one character is in quotes, then MATLAB constructs a 1-by-1 array:

S = 'Hello World'

For more information, see Characters and Strings

Space Character

The space character serves a purpose similar to the comma in that it can be used to separate row elements in an array constructor, or the values returned by a function.

Row Element Separator

You have the option of using either commas or spaces to delimit the row elements of an array when constructing the array. To create a 1-by-3 array, use

A = [5.92 8.13 3.53]
A =
    5.9200    8.1300    3.5300

When indexing into an array, you must always use commas to reference each dimension of the array.

Function Output Separator

Spaces are allowed when specifying a list of values to be returned by a function. You can use spaces to separate return values in both function declarations and function calls:

function [data text] = xlsread(file, sheet, range, mode)

Slash and Backslash — / \

The slash (/) and backslash (\) characters separate the elements of a path or folder name. On Microsoft® Windows®-based systems, both slash and backslash have the same effect. On The Open Group UNIX®-based systems, you must use slash only.

On a Windows system, you can use either backslash or slash:

dir([matlabroot '\toolbox\matlab\elmat\shiftdim.m'])
dir([matlabroot '/toolbox/matlab/elmat/shiftdim.m'])

On a UNIX system, use only the forward slash:

dir([matlabroot '/toolbox/matlab/elmat/shiftdim.m'])

Square Brackets — [ ]

Square brackets are used in array construction and concatenation, and also in declaring and capturing values returned by a function.

Array Constructor

To construct a matrix or array, enclose all elements of the array in square brackets:

A = [5.7, 9.8, 7.3; 9.2, 4.5, 6.4]


To combine two or more arrays into a new array through concatenation, enclose all array elements in square brackets:

A = [B, eye(6), diag([0:2:10])]

Function Declarations and Calls

When declaring or calling a function that returns more than one output, enclose each return value that you need in square brackets:

[data, text] = xlsread(file, sheet, range, mode)

Tilde — ~

The tilde character is used in comparing arrays for unequal values, finding the logical NOT of an array, and as a placeholder for an input or output argument you want to omit from a function call.

Not Equal to

To test for inequality values of elements in arrays a and b for inequality, use a~=b:

a = primes(29);   b = [2 4 6 7 11 13 20 22 23 29];
not_prime = b(a~=b)
not_prime =
     4     6    20    22

Logical NOT

To find those elements of an array that are zero, use:

 a = [35 42 0 18 0 0 0 16 34 0];

  1×10 logical array

   0   0   1   0   1   1   1   0   0   1

Argument Placeholder

To have the fileparts function return its third output value and skip the first two, replace arguments one and two with a tilde character:

[~, ~, filenameExt] = fileparts(fileSpec);

See Ignore Function Inputs in the MATLAB Programming documentation for more information.

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