This is documentation for Mathematica 3, which was
based on an earlier version of the Wolfram Language.
 2.3.3 Naming Pieces of Patterns Particularly when you use transformation rules, you often need to name pieces of patterns. An object like x_ stands for any expression, but gives the expression the name x. You can then, for example, use this name on the right-hand side of a transformation rule. An important point is that when you use x_, Mathematica requires that all occurrences of blanks with the same name x in a particular expression must stand for the same expression. Thus f[x_,x_] can only stand for expressions in which the two arguments of f are exactly the same. f[_,_], on the other hand, can stand for any expression of the form f[x,y], where x and y need not be the same. The transformation rule applies only to cases where the two arguments of f are identical. In[1]:= {f[a, a], f[a, b]} /. f[x_, x_] -> p[x] Out[1]= Mathematica allows you to give names not just to single blanks, but to any piece of a pattern. The object x:pattern in general represents a pattern which is assigned the name x. In transformation rules, you can use this mechanism to name exactly those pieces of a pattern that you need to refer to on the right-hand side of the rule. Patterns with names. This gives a name to the complete form _^_ so you can refer to it as a whole on the right-hand side of the transformation rule. In[2]:= f[a^b] /. f[x:_^_] -> p[x] Out[2]= Here the exponent is named n, while the whole object is x. In[3]:= f[a^b] /. f[x:_^n_] -> p[x, n] Out[3]= When you give the same name to two pieces of a pattern, you constrain the pattern to match only those expressions in which the corresponding pieces are identical. Here the pattern matches both cases. In[4]:= {f[h[4], h[4]], f[h[4], h[5]]} /. f[h[_], h[_]] -> q Out[4]= Now both arguments of f are constrained to be the same, and only the first case matches. In[5]:= {f[h[4], h[4]], f[h[4], h[5]]} /. f[x:h[_], x_] -> r[x] Out[5]=