The function org-emphasize puts formatting on a region, e. g. * at the beginning end end of a bold sentence or word.

To remove the bold attribute I can mark the same region, execute M-x org-emphasize and hit space.

Question: Is there a way to remove emphasis on a sentence without the need to mark the region?

Thoughts: Maybe it is possible to detect the next and previous emphasis marker and delete them. As an alternative: How would I mark the text between the next and previous emphasis marker in a function?

  • 1
    How would you deal with this is *bold* and that is *bolder* when point is say after the h of that?
    – NickD
    Jun 17, 2020 at 16:07
  • Good question. One option would be to delete the most adjacent * and format the whole text in bold: *bold and that is bolder*. Another option to parse the whole paragraph and ask for a selection of the occurence (1 or 2) and delete the corresponding formatting. But I have absolutely no clue how to do either in elisp. :-/ If a function selects the region between the two * then there would be some visual feeback to move the cursor. What do you think? Jun 17, 2020 at 16:42
  • How often do you have to do that? For the few times that I would make any use of such a function, and given that it might require some somewhat complicated logic to deal with possibly ambiguous situations, I would forego the function and just delete the emphasis characters by hand. That would allow me to tailor the response to the exact situation, so I could resolve ambiguities in real time. IOW, IMO it's not worth automating. OTOH, if you are looking to learn some lisp, it might be a good exercise.
    – NickD
    Jun 17, 2020 at 18:37

1 Answer 1


You can do this with smartparens:

(require 'smartparens)
(require 'smartparens-config)   
(define-key smartparens-mode-map (kbd "C-<backspace>") 'sp-unwrap-sexp)
(define-key smartparens-mode-map (kbd "M-<backspace>") 'sp-backward-unwrap-sexp)

For example:

This is *bold* and th|at is *bolder*.

Pressing M-<backspace> unwraps the word "bold". Pressing C-<backspace> unwraps the word "bolder". Also, to make a word *bold* (/italic/ etc.), type * once and the the cursor is wrapped automatically.

Alternatively, you can try the following command (lightly tested).

(defun toggle-emphasis ()
    (if (and (org-in-regexp org-emph-re 2)
             (not (region-active-p)))
        (let ((beg (match-beginning 3))
              (end (match-end 4)))
          (when (and (>= (point) (1- beg))
                     (<= (point) (1+ end)))
              (goto-char end)
              (delete-char 1)
              (goto-char beg)
              (delete-char 1))))
      (call-interactively #'org-emphasize))))

(global-set-key [remap org-emphasize] #'toggle-emphasis)

Pressing C-c C-x C-f should work as usual with the cursor outside the marked area (see below). Otherwise the word "bold" is unwrapped.

This is *bold* and...
  • Thanks for the effort! I will check it out on the weekend. Jun 19, 2020 at 7:58
  • I whish I had known smartparens before. This makes formatting text a breeze. I chose M-<backspace> for sp-unwrap-sexp and S-<backspace> for sp-backward-unwrap-sexp because it feels mor mnemonic with Shift being on the left side (back) and Alt being on the right (forward). Jun 22, 2020 at 18:18

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