Comments are an important aspect of every programming language and dealing with them effectively is an useful skill.

Emacs offers a bunch of comment-related commands and in this post we’re going to examine them.


Let’s start with comment-region. That’s a very basic command that will comment/uncomment the active region. Nothing fancy here.

The behaviour of this command can be tweaked by the variable comment-style. All supported comment styles are defined in comment-styles:

((plain nil nil nil nil "Start in column 0 (do not indent), as in Emacs-20")
 (indent-or-triple nil nil nil multi-char "Start in column 0, but only for single-char starters")
 (indent nil nil nil t "Full comment per line, ends not aligned")
 (aligned nil t nil t "Full comment per line, ends aligned")
 (box nil t t t "Full comment per line, ends aligned, + top and bottom")
 (extra-line t nil t t "One comment for all lines, end on a line by itself")
 (multi-line t nil nil t "One comment for all lines, end on last commented line")
 (box-multi t t t t "One comment for all lines, + top and bottom"))

I’ll admit I never felt the need to change the default value of comment-style (indent).

The comment-region command is not bound to any key by default. There’s a good reason for this - there are at least two more capable commands that render comment-region useless.


As the name implies it simply uncomments each line in the active region.

Like comment-region it’s not bound to any key by default. In a similar vein - it’s a command you’d likely never use directly.


comment-dwim1 is the Swiss army knife of Emacs comment commands. Depending on the context in which it’s invoked it can exhibit pretty different behaviours:

  • If the region is active it calls comment-region (unless it only consists of comments, in which case it calls uncomment-region).
  • If the current line is empty, call comment-insert-comment-function if it is defined, otherwise insert a comment and indent it.
  • If a prefix argument is specified (e.g. C-u), call comment-kill (this command kills the first comment on the line, if any).
  • Else, call comment-indent, which simply indents the comment.

This versatile command is bound to M-; by default.

One thing that’s somewhat annoying about comment-dwim is that it’s not very convenient to uncomment the current line. As noted above your only option is to select the commented region (in this case the current line) and invoke commend-dwim on it, but I think it would have been nice if repeated invocations of the command handled this somehow.


comment-line is a newer command that was added in Emacs 25.1, as a simpler alternative to comment-dwim. It will comment/uncomment the current line (or region) - nothing more, nothing less.

The command is bound to C-x C-;. Personally, I like it way more than comment-dwim, as it’s simpler and more consistent. You might want to remap it to the more convenient M-; keybinding like this:

(global-set-key [remap comment-dwim] #'comment-line)


This command will put the selected region in a comment box. Here’s an example:

(defgroup crux nil
  "crux configuration."
  :prefix "crux-"
  :group 'convenience)

;; becomes

;; (defgroup crux nil      ;;
;;   "crux configuration." ;;
;;   :prefix "crux-"       ;;
;;   :group 'convenience)  ;;

This command is not bound to any key by default.

Closing Thoughts

So many comment commands! On top of this there are packages like comment-dwim-2 and some mode-specific comment commands like the one provided by clojure-comment-dwim.

I’ve started writing this article about a year ago, I got interrupted by something, and I totally forgot about it. I’m pretty sure I meant to cover more ground in it, but I now longer remember what I had in mind. :D I’m just happy I finally got to sharing it with you!

So, what’s your approach for dealing with comments? Do you use some of the built-in commands or do you rely on custom commands or third-party extensions?

  1. dwim stands for “Do What I Mean”.