How can I match the outest bracket and replace it with $$ in vim?

For example:

{a+b>c} --> $a+b>c$

{a+{\int_a^bf(x)dx=\set{a+c}}} --> $a+{\int_a^bf(x)dx=\set{a+c}}$

{a+{b+c}+d} and {e+{f}+g} --> $a+{b+c}+d$ and $a+{f}+g$


By @Ingo Karkat's fascinating answer, I can search and replace correctly on each file. I would like to make this more easy to operate by:

  1. All my file are with filetype tex;
  2. I would like to define a shortcut key to make the search and replace though out the file with ft=tex

How can I do that? (I know this is maybe off topic, and I should solve it by reading vim's doc, but it will take me a lot of time since I am just a begginer user of vim...)

  • Please don't drastically change the subject of your question after you've got several good answers. Mappings are straightforward in Vim; if you need any help please open a new question, and mark this question resolved by accepting the answer that helped you the best. Dec 12, 2016 at 7:44

3 Answers 3


Here's a macro approach that uses the % command to jump to matching curly braces. In contrast to my regular expression solution, this one handles multiple constructs in a line:

Preparation: Don't let search wrap around, the recursive macro would not end and eat into inner braces, too:

:set nowrapscan

Search for and go to the first opening brace:


Clear register q and start recording:


Go to matching closing brace, back to front, replace, back to end, replace, go to next match:


Recursively invoke macro, end macro recording, invoke macro:

  • Note that you can simplify your macro with: %r$<C-O>. to replace one, or %%r$<C-O>.n to replace and search next like you do.
    – nobe4
    Dec 8, 2016 at 16:46

As long as there's only one such construct on each line, a simple greedy match (.*) will do. Capture the inner parts (including any {...} inside, up to the last available) in a named capture, and replace with $, captured text, $:


Now, if there can be multiple constructs on a single line (e.g. {a+b>c} and {a+{\int_a^bf(x)dx=\set{a+c}}}), and you want to replace each (i.e. $a+b>c$ and $a+{\int_a^bf(x)dx=\set{a+c}}$, not $a+b>c} and {a+{\int_a^bf(x)dx=\set{a+c}}$, that's a whole different dimension. You would need to match opening and closing curly braces, something which cannot be done with Vim's regular expressions at all.

  • I know that php has Recursive patterns, It seems that there is not correspondence in vim(perl)?
    – van abel
    Dec 8, 2016 at 14:59
  • No, unfortunately not. A completely different approach would be a macro using the % command; that one can indeed jump to matching braces. Dec 8, 2016 at 15:05

Also, if you like plugins, you can use vim-surround:

cursor here, type: cs{$   (Change Surrounding { by $ )

You have to move yourself to the outer context but once you're there, it's straightforward.

  • 1
    Correct, that basically simplifies the %``r$``r$ part in my macro solution. Dec 8, 2016 at 16:14

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