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MATLAB Operators and Special Characters

This page contains a comprehensive listing of all MATLAB® operators, symbols, and special characters.

Arithmetic Operators

SymbolRoleMore Information



Unary plus




Unary minus


Element-wise multiplication


Matrix multiplication


Element-wise right division


Matrix right division


Element-wise left division


Matrix left divison

(also known as backslash)


Element-wise power


Matrix power




Complex conjugate transpose


Relational Operators

SymbolRoleMore Information

Equal to


Not equal to


Greater than


Greater than or equal to


Less than


Less than or equal to


Logical Operators

SymbolRoleMore Information

Logical AND


Logical OR


Logical AND (with short-circuiting)

Logical Operators: Short-Circuit && ||

Logical OR (with short-circuiting)


Logical NOT


Special Characters

SymbolSymbol NameRoleDescriptionExamples

At symbol

Function handle construction and reference

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

Create a function handle to a named function:

fhandle = @myfun

Create a function handle to an anonymous function:

fhandle = @(x,y) x.^2 + y.^2;

Period or dot

  • Decimal point

  • Element-wise operations

  • Structure field access

  • Object property or method specifier

The period character separates the integral and fractional parts of a number, such as 3.1415. MATLAB operators that contain a period always work element-wise. The period character also enables you to access the fields in a structure, as well as the properties and methods of an object.

Decimal point:


Element-wise operations:


Structure field access:


Object property specifier:


Dot dot dot or ellipsis

Line continuation

Three or more periods at the end of a line continues the current command on the next line. If three or more periods occur before the end of a line, then MATLAB ignores the rest of the line and continues to the next line. This effectively makes a comment out of anything on the current line that follows the three periods.

    Note:   MATLAB interprets the ellipsis as a space character. Therefore, multi-line commands must be valid as a single line with the ellipsis replaced by a space character.

Continue a function call on the next line:

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

Break a character vector up on multiple lines and concatenate the lines together:

S = ['The morning had dawned '...
'clear and cold, with a crispness '...
'that hinted at the end of summer.']

To comment out one line in a multiline command, use ... at the beginning of the line to ensure that the command remains complete. If you use % to comment out a line it produces an error:

y = 1 +...
    2 +...
  % 3 +...

However, this code runs properly since the third line does not produce a gap in the command:

y = 1 +...
    2 +...
... 3 +...



Use commas to separate row elements in an array, array subscripts, function input and output arguments, and commands entered on the same line.

Separate row elements to create an array:

A = [12,13; 14,15]

Separate subscripts:


Separate input and output arguments in function calls:

[Y,I] = max(A,[],2)

Separate multiple commands on the same line (showing output):

figure, plot(sin(-pi:0.1:pi)), grid on


  • Vector creation

  • Indexing

  • For-loop iteration

Use the colon operator to create regularly spaced vectors, index into arrays, and define the bounds of a for loop.

Create a vector:

x = 1:10

Create a vector that increments by 3:

x = 1:3:19

Reshape a matrix into a column vector:


Assign new elements without changing the shape of an array:

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

Index a range of elements in a particular dimension:


Index all elements in a particular dimension:


for loop bounds:

x = 1;
for k = 1:25
    x = x + x^2;


  • Signify end of row

  • Suppress output of code line

Use semicolons to separate rows in an array creation command, or to suppress the output display of a line of code.

Separate rows to create an array:

A = [12,13; 14,15]

Suppress code output:

Y = max(A);

Separate multiple commands on a single line (suppressing output):

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


  • Operator precedence

  • Function argument enclosure

  • Indexing

Use parentheses to specify precedence of operations, enclose function input arguments, and index into an array.

Precedence of operations:

(A.*(B./C)) - D

Function argument enclosure:

C = union(A,B)


[ ]

Square brackets

  • Array construction

  • Array concatenation

  • Empty matrix and array element deletion

  • Multiple output argument assignment

Square brackets enable array construction and concatenation, creation of empty matrices, deletion of array elements, and capturing values returned by a function.

Construct a three-element vector:

X = [10 12 -3]

Add a new bottom row to a matrix:

A = rand(3);
A = [A; 10 20 30]

Create an empty matrix:

A = []

Delete a matrix column:

A(:,1) = []

Capture three output arguments from a function:

[C,iA,iB] = union(A,B)
{ }

Curly brackets

Cell array assignment and contents

Use curly braces to construct a cell array, or to access the contents of a particular cell in a cell array.

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'}

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

A = C{4,7,2}


  • Comment

  • Conversion specifier

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.

Some functions also interpret the percent sign as a conversion specifier.

Two percent signs, %%, serve as a cell delimiter as described in Run Code Sections.

Add a comment to a block of code:

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

Use conversion specifier with sprintf:

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

Percent curly bracket

Block comments

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

    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.

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

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

Exclamation point

Operating system command

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

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

!rmdir oldtests

Question mark

Metaclass for MATLAB class

The question mark retrieves the meta.class object for a particular class name. The ? operator works only with a class name, not an object.

Retrieve the meta.class object for class inputParser:


Single quotes

Character array constructor

Use single quotes to create character vectors that have class char.

Create a character vector:

chr = 'Hello, world'

Double quotes

String constructor

Use double quotes to create string scalars that have class string.

Create a string scalar:

S = "Hello, world"

Space character


Use the space character to separate row elements in an array constructor, or the values returned by a function. In these contexts, the space character and comma are equivalent.

Separate row elements to create an array:

% These statements are equivalent
A = [12 13; 14 15]
A = [12,13; 14,15]

Separate output arguments in function calls:

% These statements are equivalent
[Y I] = max(A)
[Y,I] = max(A)


  • Logical NOT

  • Argument placeholder

Use the tilde symbol to represent logical NOT or to suppress output of specific output arguments.

Calculate the logical NOT of a matrix:

A = eye(3);

Determine where the elements of A are not equal to those of B:

A = [1 -1; 0 1]
B = [1 -2; 3 2]

Return only the third output value of union:

[~,~,iB] = union(A,B)

Equal sign


Use the equal sign to assign values to a variable. The syntax B = A stores the elements of A in variable B.

    Note:   The = character is for assignment, whereas the == character is for comparing the elements in two arrays. See eq for more information.

Create a matrix A. Assign the values in A to a new variable, B. Lastly, assign a new value to the first element in B.

A = [1 0; -1 0];
B = A;
B(1) = 200;

String and Character Formatting

Some special characters can only be used in the text of a character vector or string. You can use these special characters to insert new lines or carriage returns, specify folder paths, and more.

Use the special characters in this table to specify a folder path using a character vector or string.

SymbolSymbol NameRoleDescriptionExamples



Slash and Backslash

File or folder path separation

In addition to their use as mathematical operators, the slash and backslash characters separate the elements of a path or folder. 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'])


Dot dot

Parent folder

Two dots in succession refers to the parent of the current folder. Use this character to specify folder paths relative to the current folder.

To go up two levels in the folder tree and down into the test folder, use:

cd ..\..\test


Wildcard character

In addition to being the symbol for matrix multiplication, the asterisk * is used as a wildcard character.

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

dir('january_*.mat') locates all files with names that start with january_ and have a .mat file extension.


At symbol

Class folder indicator

An @ sign indicates the name of a class folder.

Refer to a class folder:



Package directory indicator

A + sign indicates the name of a package folder.

Package folders always begin with the + character:

+mypack/pkfcn.m  % a package function
+mypack/@myClass % class folder in a package

There are certain special characters that you cannot enter as ordinary text. Instead, you must use unique character sequences to represent them. Use the symbols in this table to format strings and character vectors on their own or in conjunction with formatting functions like compose, sprintf, and error. For more information, see Formatting Text.

SymbolEffect on Text

Single quotation mark


Single percent sign


Single backslash






Form feed


New line


Carriage return


Horizontal tab


Vertical tab


Hexadecimal number, N


Octal number, N

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