Suppose I want to search for things like

\todo{English sentence}

Then the regex


works (I don't know why. I copied it from somewhere long time ago (embarrassed)).

But suppose I want to match things like

\todo{anything whatsoever}

Then the above regex is no good.

For example, if I have

\todo{The problem is caused because of {another} pair of braces inside}

The previous regex just matches

\todo{The problem is caused because of {another}

What is the correct regex, and if possible, can someone break it down a little bit? Things like \_.\{-} already seem to make no sense!

Big thanks.

  • 2
    Regexes aren't meant to match recursive patterns. There exists hacks that do so, but in the end they are still hacks that recursively inject (up to a point before the slow down is too important) ways to workaround embedded pairs of brackets. You'll have better luck if you select up to the { then, jump to } with % -- as long as you can still apply the action you wish. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 16:12

2 Answers 2


Per the help pages in Vim:

\{-}    matches 0 or more of the preceding atom, as few as possible
*       Matches 0 or more of the preceding atom, as many as possible.

In my small test case replacing the former with the latter matched your example string. That is:

  • It was working for me at first. But after the text became more complicated, a problem has appeared. The regex you have suggested is also matching \\todo{stuff} as long as there is a closing brace} Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 17:31

As @LucHermite already mentioned in a comment, regular expressions are not meant for recursive patterns. The solution by @Vitor does not work, as was already confirmed in the comment, because it will match beyond the last } of the \todo command if possible.

Since you did not write anything about what your end goal is, it is difficult to give further concrete tips here. But I would think that you could solve your initial problem e.g. with something like this:

  1. Search for \\todo

  2. Do vf{ to select up until the first {

  3. Do % to increase the selection up until the closing }

If you need some sort of repeated action, you can combine these things with a macro, e.g. qa/\\todo<cr>vf{% ... q where ... is the action you want to perform. Then you can run the macro with @a to repeat.

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