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Preventing Evaluation

As we have seen in an earlier chapter Scheme has the concept of self-evaluating expressions, which is applicable for most simple data types: 5 evaluates to 5, "foo" to "foo", and #t to #t.

However, symbols are different as they are by default names referring to something else and evaluating to that else's value. red evaluates to the color definition list (1.0 0.0 0.0), random evaluates to a procedure. However, sometimes we need to work with the names themeselves, regardless of some entity the refer to or not. We might want to express something like “hey, we want violet”, no matter how violet is constructed as a color and whether it is actually defined.

In order to achieve this we can quote any Scheme value to prevent it from being evaluated. This is done using the quote procedure which is applied to a single object:

guile> red
(1.0 0.0 0.0)

guile> (quote red)

In this case Scheme doesn't care that there is a variable red referring a list of three values and representing the color “red”. Scheme will also ignore that there is no color “violet” in

guile> violet
ERROR: Unbound variable: violet
ABORT: (unbound-variable)

guile> (quote violet)

Quoting can not only be applied to symbols but (as said) to any Scheme value, for example procedures:

guile> random
#<primitive-procedure random>

guile> (quote random)

In all these cases we are dealing with names just as names, without any notion of a content the names might be referring to.

Shorthand Notation

Using quote is the explicit way to quote objects, but far more often you will encounter and use the shorthand notation with a prepended single quote.

guile> 'red

guile> 'violet

guile> 'random

However, you should still be familiar with at least reading the explicit form, as Scheme may use it to format expressions that you may display for learning or debugging purposes.

Last update: November 3, 2022