I use fixed tags for tasks and notes. These are tags either represent different physical places where I do my tasks (e.g. @home or @errands), or represent different areas of responsibility for me (e.g. %FAMILY, %HOME, %CAR). I define these tags by mean of org-tag-alist.

However, these tags are of little relevance when I want to tag my journal entries, which are mainly reflections of political, philosophical and ethical nature. Can I have another tag list for journal entries, or could I get a tag list to chose from which only consists of tags already used within the journal.org file? The %^g and %^G tools gives me all tasks used in my journal.org file AS WELL as those defined by org-tag-alist.

2 Answers 2


Refer to the Org manual section on Settings tags. It sounds like you have multiple org files, so you can specify a set of tags per file using the #+TAGS: option line.

If you want a defined set of tags in all files except your journal, you can use org-tag-alist but put an empty TAGS option in the journal file. Then you can use dynamic tags and %^g in that one file.


As noted in the comments, using an empty #TAGS+: line to prevent the org-tag-alist from being used in a specific file does not seem to work, despite being described in the manual. I'll investigate a bit more and file a bug.

  • Thanks for your answer. I tried to put #+TAGS: in the toprow of my journal.org file, but it did not prevent the fixed tags definitions from org-tag-alist to show up. Your method should only get me the tags used locally in that file, right?
    – myotis
    Aug 19, 2015 at 20:25
  • Did you try either re-loading the file or hitting C-c C-c on the TAGS line to apply the change? The org manual mentions this case directly: "If you have globally defined your preferred set of tags using the variable ‘org-tag-alist’, but would like to use a dynamic tag list in a specific file, add an empty TAGS option line to that file..."
    – glucas
    Aug 19, 2015 at 20:29
  • yes, but what is the point of using the %^g mechanism in the capture code then? If I have to relocate the headline after I have made it to press C-c C-c?
    – myotis
    Aug 19, 2015 at 20:33
  • Sorry, I was unclear. An options line like #+TAGS: is applied automatically when an org file is loaded, even if it is loaded via a capture template. However when you first type in the option line, it is not immediately applied. You need to close and re-visit the file, or you need to use C-c C-c to tell org that you want to read/apply that line.
    – glucas
    Aug 19, 2015 at 20:35
  • Hm, I have #+TAGS: as the first line, and I have reloaded the whole emacs, but when adding entries to my journal file all predefined tags show up. and if I add tags afterwards, by using C-c C-c, the same set of tags show up..
    – myotis
    Aug 19, 2015 at 20:38

I was also looking for a way to set my tag alist in a different way on a per directory basis. There is no clean way but it's possible.

I will start with the negative results of my investigation:

  1. Setting org-tag-alist as a buffer-local on org-mode-hook has no effect.
  2. Setting org-tag-alist as a file/directory-local has no effect.

The underlying reason is that org-mode computes org-current-tag-alist from org-tag-alist almost immediately after starting and uses org-current-tag-alist afterwards. The extension points (1) and (2) above run too late to be useful.

Another option is to override org-current-tag-alist on org-mode-hook:

      (setq org-current-tag-alist
            (org--tag-add-to-alist my-org-tag-alist

but be aware that this fails in some scenarios. For example, after calling the agenda org-current-tag-alist is recomputed for every agenda file.

The more robust option seems to be setting a before-advice. See the following example taken from my init.el that prepends a tag alist to the global one when under the ~/gtd/ directory:

(defun my-org-gtd-tag-advice (&rest _)
  (when (string-prefix-p (expand-file-name "~/gtd/") buffer-file-name)
    (setq-local org-tag-alist
                 '((:startgroup . nil)
                   ("@casa" . ?c) ("@oficina" . ?o) ("@viaje" . ?v)
                   (:endgroup . nil)
                   ("PROJECT" . ?p))
                 (default-value 'org-tag-alist)))))
(advice-add #'org-set-regexps-and-options :before #'my-org-gtd-tag-advice)

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