I wrote a syntax highlighting .vim file. One of the expressions is used to color the label in a JavaScript object declaration:

name: 'value'

I want to see the name in a different color.

My expression looks like this:

syn match label "\<[a-zA-Z_$][a-zA-Z_$0-9]*[ \t]*:[^=:]\="

The idea is to avoid seeing name as a label if the colon is immediately followed by an equal (=) or a colon (:) as in these two lines, the highlight should not happen:


However, my current expression fails in this situation:

     +---  no space here

The effect is that the string ('value') doesn't get highlighted as expected since the first quote (') is viewed as being part of the label expression.

How do I test that an expression is not followed by another without eating that expression?


Here's what I would do:

syn match label "\<[a-zA-Z_$][a-zA-Z_$0-9]*\s*:[:=]\@!"

First off, general comments.

  • [ \t] could be \s, which match the exact same things.
  • [:=]\@! is called a negative lookahead. So if you have <atom>\@! then it only matches if <atom> does not match at that position, but it also doesn't "eat" that atom. So it's like saying "all that stuff, not followed by a colon or an equals."

  • This could also be a bit shorter by taking advantage of character classes:

    syn match label "\v(\h|\$)(\w|\$)*\s*:[:=]@!"

    \h is the same as [a-zA-Z_], and \w is the same as [a-zA-Z0-9_]. And using \v at the beginning allows us to make a bit shorter by removing some backslashes.

  • Ah! That works, I tried with \@! but left \= behind it... without the \= it works as expected. Great! – Alexis Wilke Jan 17 at 19:57

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