In a normal mode key mapping I'd like to match the ESC and only this key, not key sequences like caused by the arrow keys.

Background: I thought I'd torture myself in the process of avoiding excess ESC presses in normal mode by force-quitting vim.

My naive approach was:

:nmap <Esc> :q!<CR>

And it's actually working quite well1, except, when trying to navigate with the arrow keys in normal mode, vim quits too. I suppose it's because vim is converting the arrow keys into escape sequences internally, and then handling the <Esc> key before the rest of the sequence.

1: on another system with some 7.4 release, vim exits on startup because something issues an escape key (sequence), probably.

Reproducible with:

VIM - Vi IMproved 8.0 (2016 Sep 12, compiled Jun 21 2019 04:10:35)
Included patches: 1-197, 322, 377-378, 550, 649, 651, 703, 706-707
Extra patches: 8.1.1401, 8.1.1382, 8.1.1368, 8.1.1367, 8.1.1366, 
8.1.1365, 8.1.1046, 8.1.0613, 8.1.0547, 8.1.0546, 8.1.0544, 
8.1.0540, 8.1.0539, 8.1.0538, 8.1.0506, 8.1.0208, 8.1.0206,  
8.1.0205, 8.1.0189, 8.1.0177, 8.1.0067, 8.1.0066

(Ask for the list of included/missing features, if required.)

No plugins loaded, ensured with --noplugin.

I was learning via Fandom's vim key mapping tutorial and by searching this and other Stacks, so I might not have understood things well enough, yet.

How can I ignore <Esc> in escape sequences or match a single <Esc> or even debounce key sequences?

1 Answer 1


vim is converting the arrow keys into escape sequences internally

Not quite. This is the issue with all escape mappings: your terminal is sending the escape sequences, which vim knows to interpret as arrow keys. Flip the logic a little. Best answer: dont map escape.

I’m not aware of any way for vim to distinguish the different kinds of Escape presses. It does this internally via a really good guess, some timeout settings, and the terminfo database (in other words, it depends heavily on the terminal emulator and the terminal being emulated).

  • Of course, though I thought vim would convert the terminals sequences to single codes since there's <Left>, <Right>, ... (and not <Esc><A> or whatever). Thanks for your answer. Aug 10, 2019 at 17:57
  • 1
    <Left> is an internal vimscript notation that works regardless of what escape sequences are used (xterm, vt100, etc.). But i can see where the confusion lies.
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Aug 10, 2019 at 18:22

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