An operation I do often in vim is to replace the word at the cursor with a single letter.

Currently, I do this via:

cw x Esc

(Where x is my replacement letter).

This isn't bad, but is there a way to do this without entering insert mode, so that I don't have to hit Escape when I'm done?

  • 1
    Most answers here will make the workflow like 2 keystrokes, e.g. ,x (if I mapped the script to , and x is the replacement letter) and would definitely help -- Just to mention, you may also want to do inoremap jk <esc> so it won't feel too much a burden to exit from insert mode.
    – Sunny Pun
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 6:25

6 Answers 6



Replace the first character with X then move right and delete the rest of the word. No insert mode required.

rXlde is actually needed if you are working with a word with trailing space, rather than a delimiter.

  • 1
    This fails if the word is only two characters long. You can obviously do rXlx instead in that situation, but now you have two different series of keystrokes. :(
    – Rich
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:21
  • I like this solution since it will work at ANY vim I happen to sit down at, not just "my" vim. Thanks! Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 15:07
  • 1
    @JonSchneider It works with any vi because I'm an ancient vi guy who doesn't know vim at all. So all I have to work with is the original vanilla product.
    – Sinc
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 21:51

I couldn't find a way to do this in the docs, so I created a mapping to do it. You can type this into your .vimrc file:

nnoremap <leader>rw vwhhc.<esc>r

Let me break it down:

vw -> highlight a word
hh -> go left twice because highlighting a word puts your cursor on the next word, and you don't want to change it
c  -> change what's highlighted (this will delete the word)
.  -> put a period there
<esc> -> go to normal mode
r -> press r on the period.  The next button you press will replace that . with the character you want.
  • 6
    The idea is good, but it could be simplified into ciw.<esc>r. If you want to replace a word, ciw is the sequence with the less side-effects. You could also have kept OP's cw -> cw.<esc>r Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 18:05

There is no builtin solution. And I fail to find a one liner. If I put eatchar() directly in a mapping, it'll see what follows in the mapping instead of what the user will type.

The following isn't very ergonomic, but it'll work:

function! s:repl1() abort
  let c = nr2char(getchar())
  exe "normal! ciw".c."\<esc>"

" use anything you wish instead of "µ" to trigger the mapping    
nnoremap <silent> µ :call <sid>repl1()<cr>

EDIT: See Daniel Kaplan's answer for a oneliner

BTW, it's also possible to define our own operator (:h g@), so instead of µ, we could type µiw (for the current word), µw (from the cursor position to the end of the current word), and so on.

function! s:opfunc(type) abort
  let motion = a:type == 'line' ? "'[v']" : '`[v`]'
  silent exe "normal! ".motion."c".nr2char(getchar())."\<esc>"

nnoremap <silent> µ :set opfunc=<sid>opfunc<cr>g@

Note that, I've still haven't found how to force a redraw where we see we're in REPLACE-mode. The best I can come up with is the following, inspired by Daniel Kaplan's solution.

  silent exe "normal! ".motion."c¤\<esc>"
  silent exe "normal! r".nr2char(getchar())

This is an improvement on Daniel Kaplan's answer.

nnoremap <expr> <leader>rw "ciw".nr2char(getchar())."\<esc>"

There are a couple improvements here:

  1. This uses ciw instead of vwhhc. This is shorter and more idiomatic, doesn't move your visual selection marks '<,'>, and more importantly, works at the end of a word instead of just at the beginning.

  2. This doesn't do anything until you choose what character you're replacing the word with.


I would do it this way (overkill perhaps):

command -nargs=1 RW :call ReplaceWord(<f-args>)
fun! ReplaceWord(char)
    sil exe "s/" . expand('<cword>') . "/" . a:char . "/"

Now you can just type :RW x with your cursor over the word you want to replace. RW stands for "replace word" but you could choose your own preferred command name.

:map , cwx<esc>r

x is a temporary replacement character. The r at the end leaves it in replace mode to replace the temporary character x.

So to change asdf to y with the cursor on a type ,y

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