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Lists and Sexps

By convention, Emacs keys for dealing with balanced expressions are usually Control-Meta characters. They tend to be analogous in function to their Control and Meta equivalents. These commands are usually thought of as pertaining to expressions in programming languages, but can be useful with any language in which some sort of parentheses exist (including human languages).

These commands fall into two classes. Some deal only with lists (parenthetical groupings). They see nothing except parentheses, brackets, braces (whichever ones must balance in the language you are working with), and escape characters that might be used to quote those.

The other commands deal with expressions or sexps. The word `sexp' is derived from s-expression, the ancient term for an expression in Lisp. But in Emacs, the notion of `sexp' is not limited to Lisp. It refers to an expression in whatever language your program is written in. Each programming language has its own major mode, which customizes the syntax tables so that expressions in that language count as sexps.

Sexps typically include symbols, numbers, and string constants, as well as anything contained in parentheses, brackets or braces.

In languages that use prefix and infix operators, such as C, it is not possible for all expressions to be sexps. For example, C mode does not recognize `foo + bar' as a sexp, even though it is a C expression; it recognizes `foo' as one sexp and `bar' as another, with the `+' as punctuation between them. This is a fundamental ambiguity: both `foo + bar' and `foo' are legitimate choices for the sexp to move over if point is at the `f'. Note that `(foo + bar)' is a single sexp in C mode.

Some languages have obscure forms of expression syntax that nobody has bothered to make Emacs understand properly.

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