I have something like the following text

( parens ) ( 1 + growth )   (1+growth)   (1 +growth) ( parens )

and I'd like replace every instance of ( 1 + growth ), regardless of whitespace, with say, growthFun

The nongreedy search command


almost works, i.e., it locates the second and third instances, but the first time around it grabs ( parens ) ( 1 + growth )

This is puzzling since it does not do the same thing at the end of the line, i.e., it does not grab (1 +growth) ( parens ) the third time around. Could somebody please explain why the difference, and then how to avoid the first incorrect grab?

A closely related question is: the nongreedy construction .\{-} must be the most horrible, unnatural things the vi inventors every invented. Is there a way to alias it in .vimrc so that, for example, typing

:g/( ;ng 1 ;ng etc )

would expand to

:g/( .\{-} 1 .\{-} etc )

Thanks for any advice!

  • 2
    If I replace .\{-} with \s\{-} or [^()], the command looks like it works according to your requirement. Would that be acceptable (look just for a space(s) or non-parenthesis in lieu of non-newline characters? Jan 11, 2018 at 22:50

2 Answers 2


Rather than searching for as few of any character as possible, change it to search for as many white space characters as possible. This can be done by replacing .\{-} with \s*.

I would simplify (at least I think it's simpler) further with this:


Also, take a look at :help character-classes. There are a lot of really useful character classes that can be used to match only certain types of characters, such as only digits or only lower case letters.

Edit: It occurs to me that I didn't necessarily answer your questions.

The reason you are seeing a difference in behavior is because the end of your pattern is growth.\{-}) and \{-} finds 0 or more of the previous atom, but as few as possible. So, this is basically saying "Find growth, then find a ) and do it in as few characters as you can". Since there is a ) immediately after the last growth, it doesn't have to go very far.

On the other hand, the beginning of your pattern is (.\{-}1 which similarly says "Find a ( and a 1 and do it in as few characters as you can". Since a 1 doesn't appear within the first group of parentheses, it has to continue until the second group.

I'm not aware of any way to alias the .\{-}. I also found this syntax rather awkward at first, but it seems to make a bit more sense when you realize that you can use numbers inside the curly braces to specify exactly how many to match (or even a range of how many to match). For example, you can do \{6} to find exactly 6 of the previous atom or \{2,6} to find 2 to 6 of them. Adding a - such as \{-6} means to find up to 6, but as few as possible. Leave out the number (i.e. \{-}) and you're just saying "find as few as possible". :help pattern-multi-items has a bunch more information about this.

  • Thanks to all three responses. I accepted @Pak 's response because \s* is so much easier to type than \s.\{-} and for the explanation !
    – Leo Simon
    Jan 13, 2018 at 0:16
  • Glad I could help!
    – Pak
    Jan 15, 2018 at 4:38

Replace non-new line character with the space character or non-parenthesis

If we examine the start of your match expression, (.\{-}1, we see that we can find a quick match which finds the minimum number of non-newline characters until the first 1.

Here are the results of this match, /(.\{-}1:


This behavior you are seeing is expected behavior.

I like the idea of going after a space character, \s, or a non-parenthesis character class for our atom which we are trying to find a non-greedy match:


Here are the results:

enter image description here

Here is my non-parenthesis character class command:


Here are the results for non-parenthesis character class:

enter image description here

With your second question, I personally like the syntax for quantifiers. Perhaps someone else has some ideas on this.

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