10 minutes to read January 9, 2024 55 reads

LaTeX - Common Errors and How to Fix Them

Imran Molla Joy

cover image of LaTeX - Common Errors and How to Fix Them

LaTeX is a powerful typesetting system widely used for document preparation, specially in academic and technical fields. Its significance lies in producing high-quality documents with precision in mathematical typesetting, consistent formatting, and efficient bibliography management. LaTeX is favored for its stability, portability, and open-source nature, making it a key tool for professionals and researchers.

LaTeX is a powerful tool, but errors are common, especially for beginners. In this article, we’ll address common LaTeX errors and provide solutions to help you navigate through them with confidence.

Table of contents

  1. Common errors and solution
    1. Undefined Control Sequence
    2. File Not Found
    3. Misplaced Alignment Tab Character
    4. Font Shape Not Available
    5. Overfull/Underfull \hbox or \vbox
    6. Figure/Table Placement Issues
  2. Tips for preventing common errors

Common errors and solution

Undefined Control Sequence

Explanation: This error occurs when LaTeX encounters a command it doesn’t recognize. The “control sequence” refers to a command or macro, and “undefined” means LaTeX doesn’t know what to do with it. This often happens due to typos, missing packages, or incorrect command usage.


  1. Check for Typos: Carefully review the command causing the error. Typos, such as misspelled commands or extra characters, are common culprits.
  2. Missing Packages: Ensure that you’ve included the necessary packages for any specialized commands. Use \usepackage{} in the preamble to include packages.
  3. Correct Command Usage: Verify that you’re using the command correctly. Some commands may require specific arguments or formatting.

File Not Found

Explanation: This error occurs when LaTeX can’t locate a file specified in the document. The file may be an image, bibliography file, or any external file referenced in your LaTeX document. Common causes include incorrect file paths, misspelled filenames, or files not in the specified directory.


  1. Double-Check File Paths: Ensure that the file paths specified in your LaTeX document are accurate. Check for typos and make sure the file is in the expected location.
  2. Verify Filenames: Confirm that the filenames match exactly, including capitalization. LaTeX is case-sensitive, so “File.jpg” and “file.jpg” are considered different.
  3. Use Relative Paths: Consider using relative paths instead of absolute paths. This helps maintain portability across different systems.
  4. Check Directory Structure: Examine the organization of your project folders. Files should be in directories that LaTeX can access.
  5. Include File Extensions: Include the correct file extensions (e.g., “.png”, “.pdf”, “.bib”) in your document. LaTeX needs these to identify the file type.

Misplaced Alignment Tab Character

Explanation: This error commonly occurs when working with tables and arrays in LaTeX. It indicates that the alignment tab character (&) is not in the correct position or is missing within the structure of the table or array.


  1. Correct Column Alignment: Ensure that the & symbol is used to separate columns in each row of the table or array. Make sure the number of & symbols matches the number of columns defined.
  2. Check for Missing or Extra &: Verify that there are no missing or extra & symbols within a row. Each row must have the correct number of & separators to align the columns properly.
  3. Proper Syntax for Alignment: Understand the syntax for column alignment. For example, \begin{tabular}{lcr} specifies a table with three columns, left-aligned, centered, and right-aligned, respectively.
  4. Escape Special Characters: If your table or array includes special characters, such as $ or %, use the \ symbol before them to escape them properly.
  5. Check for Typos: Review the entire table or array structure for any typos or syntax errors. A small mistake can lead to the misplaced alignment tab error.

Font Shape Not Available

Explanation: The “Font Shape Not Available” error in LaTeX indicates that the chosen font shape or style is not present in the specified font package. This commonly occurs when using a font that lacks certain styles or when attempting to access a non-existent font shape.


  1. Check Font Package: Verify that you have the correct font package installed. Different font packages provide various styles and shapes. Ensure you’ve loaded the appropriate package in the preamble using \usepackage{}.
  2. Use a Different Font: If the selected font doesn’t have the desired shape, consider choosing a different font or exploring alternative font packages. LaTeX offers a variety of fonts with different styles and shapes.
  3. Check Font Commands: Review the commands used to set the font shape. Ensure that the specified shape is available for the chosen font. Common commands include \textit{} for italics and \textbf{} for bold.
  4. Update Font Packages: Ensure that your LaTeX distribution and font packages are up-to-date. Font-related issues are sometimes resolved by updating the LaTeX system and associated packages.
  5. Load Additional Font Packages: If necessary, load additional font packages that provide the missing font shape. Consult the documentation for the specific font package to understand its available styles and shapes.

Overfull/Underfull \hbox or \vbox

Explanation: The “Overfull \hbox” or “Underfull \hbox” (horizontal box) and “Overfull \vbox” or “Underfull \vbox” (vertical box) errors in LaTeX indicate problems with line or page overflow. These errors occur when LaTeX struggles to fit the content within the specified margins, leading to issues with spacing and alignment.


  1. Adjust Spacing:

    • Increase or decrease inter-word spacing using \spaceskip or \fontdimen2.
    • Adjust inter-line spacing with \baselineskip or \linespread.
  2. Use Hyphenation:

    • Enable hyphenation using \usepackage{hyphenat} or \hyphenation{word-list} in the preamble.
    • Add discretionary hyphens (\-) in longer words to guide LaTeX on permissible break points.
  3. Allow Line Breaks:

    • Encourage line breaks at specific points using \linebreak or \newline.
    • Permit flexible spacing with \sloppy in the document preamble.
  4. Review Paragraph Content:

    • Reword or restructure sentences to reduce line length.
    • Split long mathematical expressions or URLs strategically.
  5. Adjust Page Margins:

    • Widen the page margins using \geometry{margin=1in} (adjust values as needed) in the preamble.
    • Consider using the geometry package for more advanced layout adjustments.
  6. Use \emergencystretch:

    • Allow extra stretching of inter-word spaces with \emergencystretch in the preamble.
  7. Check for Overfull Boxes:

    • Identify the specific line causing the error by looking for the “Overfull \hbox” warning in the log file.
    • Address issues in that line, such as adjusting content or hyphenation.

Figure/Table Placement Issues

Explanation: Encountering difficulty in placing figures or tables in LaTeX can be frustrating. This issue arises when LaTeX struggles to find an optimal location for the float, leading to placement challenges.


  1. Adjust Float Placement Options:

    • Use placement specifiers with the \begin{figure}[placement] or \begin{table}[placement] commands. Common options include [h] for here, [t] for top, [b] for bottom, and [p] for a dedicated page.
    • Consider using combinations like [ht] or [htb] to provide LaTeX with more flexibility.
  2. Allow More Placement Options:

    • Expand the acceptable areas for figure placement by adjusting the \setcounter{topnumber}{x}, \setcounter{bottomnumber}{y}, and \setcounter{totalnumber}{z} counters in the preamble. This can help avoid limitations on the number of floats on each page.
  3. Consider the float Package:

    • Include the \usepackage{float} in the preamble and use the H specifier (\begin{figure}[H] or \begin{table}[H]) to force figures or tables to be exactly where they are in the code.
  4. Scale or Resize Figures:

    • If the figure is too large, consider scaling it down using
    % or
  5. Use the caption Package:

    • Include the \usepackage{caption} in the preamble for additional options in adjusting captions and avoiding potential conflicts.
  6. Check for Overfull Boxes:

    • Overfull box warnings may affect float placement. Address any overfull box issues in the document to facilitate proper float positioning.
  7. Review Text and Float Interactions:

    • Ensure that there is enough text space for the float to fit. If the float doesn’t fit within a page, it might be deferred to the next page.

Tips for preventing common errors

  1. Understand Document Structure:

    • Familiarize yourself with the basic structure of a LaTeX document: \documentclass, \begin{document}, and \end{document}.
    • Recognize the importance of the preamble, where packages and settings are declared.
  2. Consistent Use of Braces:

    • Be meticulous in using braces {} to group elements. Ensure opening and closing braces match, especially in commands with arguments.
  3. Mindful Spaces:

    • Be cautious with spaces. LaTeX treats consecutive spaces as a single space, so extra spaces might lead to unexpected formatting.
  4. Proper Command Formatting:

    • Use commands and environments according to their syntax. Incorrect usage can result in errors. Refer to documentation for proper formatting.
  5. Check for Typos:

    • Typos are common sources of errors. Regularly review your document for typos in commands, labels, and references.
  6. Handle Special Characters:

    • Special characters like #, $, %, and & have specific meanings in LaTeX. Use the \ symbol to escape them when needed.
  7. Consistent Labeling:

    • Adopt a consistent and meaningful labeling system for sections, figures, tables, and equations. Inconsistencies may lead to referencing errors.
  8. Regular Compilation:

    • Compile your document frequently to catch errors early. Some errors may only become apparent after multiple compilation passes.
  9. Version Control:

    • Implement version control using tools like Git. This helps track changes, revert to previous versions, and collaborate more effectively.

Encountering errors is a natural part of the learning process. Instead of viewing errors as obstacles, consider them opportunities to enhance your LaTeX skills. Embrace the challenge of troubleshooting and refining your document. Remember:

  • Learn from Mistakes:
    • Errors are valuable learning experiences. Take the time to understand why an error occurred and how to resolve it.
  • Explore Documentation:
    • Delve into LaTeX documentation and online resources. They offer insights into the intricacies of LaTeX and solutions to a wide range of issues.
  • Join the LaTeX Community:
    • Engage with the vibrant LaTeX community. Forums and discussion groups provide a platform to seek advice, share experiences, and learn from others.
  • Practice Regularly:
    • The more you work with LaTeX, the more proficient you become. Practice is key to developing confidence in handling various challenges.

Remember, every error conquered is a step forward in mastering LaTeX. Keep refining your skills, and soon you’ll find yourself creating beautifully formatted documents with ease. Happy typesetting!

Last updated: January 9, 2024