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(This article was first published on Rmazing, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

I have been working with R for some time now, but once in a while, basic functions catch my eye that I was not aware of…
For some project I wanted to transform a correlation matrix into a covariance matrix. Now, since cor2cov does not exist, I thought about “reversing” the cov2cor function (stats:::cov2cor).
Inside the code of this function, a specific line jumped into my retina:

r[] <- Is * V * rep(Is, each = p)

What’s this [ ]?

Well, it stands for every element of matrix . Consider this:

mat <- matrix(NA, nrow = 5, ncol = 5)

> mat
[,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5]
[1,] NA NA NA NA NA
[2,] NA NA NA NA NA
[3,] NA NA NA NA NA
[4,] NA NA NA NA NA
[5,] NA NA NA NA NA

With the empty bracket, we can now substitute ALL values by a new value: