I cannot understand what those brackets above for. When I click it, "enter preformatted text" comes up. What is it for?

1 Answer 1


When you use "preformatted text", all the letters are the same width. That's really good for programming sites like Stack Overflow where you need to discuss computer code:

#include <stdio.h>

int main(void)
    printf("Hello, world!\n");
    return 0;

But we don't use it much here on English Language Learners, because we don't need to discuss programming very much.

Instead, we usually use the blockquote formatting:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien

This is better for discussing English. The letters are different widths and are easier to read.

Please use blockquote formatting in your questions, and don't use preformatted text unless you have a special reason to do so. What do I mean by a "special reason"? If you really want to line text up vertically, like in joiedevivre's answer, you can use preformatted text to do so:

  1 Shakta people (ethnic group)
+ 1 Shaiva people (ethnic group)
= 2 Hindu peoples (two ethnic groups that are both Hindu)

  n Hindu people who believe in god
+ n Hindu people who don't believe in god
= n Hindu people (many Hindu people with different beliefs)

But this should be treated as the exception rather than the rule.

For a little bit of white space every now and then, you can use &nbsp; to insert one blank space. Also, two blank spaces at the end of a line will force a line break. Those two tricks can be used to write something like this, for example:

Your breath has time to straighten,
    Your brain to bubble cool, –
Deals one imperial thunderbolt
    That scalps your naked soul.

The Master, Emily Dickinson

  • One reason to use "preformatted" is if you want to show markup characters like [How to write hyperlinks](https://ell.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4640/) without the page rendering them like this: How to write hyperlinks
    – ColleenV
    Feb 3, 2018 at 14:27
  • In addition to most browsers' rendering the text within the pre (together with code) tags (that the "preformatted text" button adds) using a monospace font, all the whitespace will be preserved, and word wrap will be disabled. The penultimate feature might be useful when quoting poems or such, where preserving the original formatting might be of value.
    – user3395
    Feb 3, 2018 at 16:06
  • @userr2684291 - You can also use &nbsp; for a blank space, which might be better if you are merely trying to add a little bit of white space every now and then. I hope snailplane doesn't mind my addition to this answer.
    – J.R. Mod
    Feb 4, 2018 at 12:30
  • @J.R. Please add anything you like :-) I might have simplified things too much in the original version of the answer.
    – user230
    Feb 4, 2018 at 12:34
  • 1
    I just used pre tags yesterday in this answer: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/156268/usage-of-peoples/…. I'm not claiming it's a brilliant answer or anything, but it's certainly a place where pre tags worked and blockquote tags wouldn't have. Feb 12, 2018 at 5:18
  • @joiedevivre Great example! I've incorporated it into the answer.
    – user230
    Feb 12, 2018 at 5:28

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