Is there a way to use a register or visual selection for search and replace? I have some longer sequence of words that are used repeatedly in my script. I want to replace them all but want to avoid typing a long sentence in a command line. If I can select them in visual mode or yank them in a buffer, and utilize it in replacement, it makes my life a lot easier.

i.e. Instead of doing something like,

:%s/Some really long word sequence that Id0n+wanna type /replacement sentence/g

I am imagining something like.

:%s/selected/replacement in a register/g

2 Answers 2


One possible solution is to use what I call register recall: on the :-command line, Ctrl-r followed by any of the registers (the named ones, like a or 3, or the others, such as - or ") will insert the contents of said register.

(This works in insert mode as well.)

So you could

  1. Yank the text
  2. Substitute with :%s/<C-r>"/replacement/g

It’s also interesting to note that this works on searches, too, so you could

  1. Yank the text
  2. Search: /<C-r>"
  3. Verify that you get the matches you want, or further refine the search pattern
  4. Substitute using the last pattern: :%s//replacement/g

A further refinement is to yank the replacement and do

  • 1
    You could even search first, then visual select the replacement and yank it, then use the / register for find and the " register for replace expressions.
    – Spidey
    Aug 10, 2019 at 6:46

I use the following plugin to search for visually selected text:

function! VisualSelection()
    " Save register content and type.
    let old_reg     = getreg('"')
    let old_regmode = getregtype('"')

    " Calling this function has ended visual mode, so it must be started
    " again before the selection can be yanked into the unnamed register.
    normal! gvy
    let selection = @"

    " Restore register content and type.
    call setreg('"', old_reg, old_regmode)

    return selection

function! Escaped(text)
    call inputsave()
    let result = escape(a:text, '\\/.*$^~[]')
    let result = substitute(result, "\n$", "", "")
    let result = substitute(result, "\n", '\\n', "g")
    call inputrestore()
    return result

xnoremap <silent> <unique> * :<C-U><cr>/<C-R><C-R>=Escaped(VisualSelection())<cr><cr>
xnoremap <silent> <unique> # :<C-U><cr>?<C-R><C-R>=Escaped(VisualSelection())<cr><cr>

This overrides the default behavior of * and + which would extend the visual selection to the next occurrence of the word under the cursor.

For replacement you can define a third mapping which creates a substitute command for the whole buffer and prefills the search text with the visually selected text:

xnoremap <silent> <unique> g* :<C-U>%s/<C-R><C-R>=Escaped(VisualSelection()) . '/'<cr>
  • (1) that should probably be normal! gvy and (2) while this is great for visual searching, it does not directly answer the replace part. Maybe add a paragraph about the “last used search” so OP can do :%s//repl/g?
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Aug 9, 2019 at 17:16
  • @d.benknoble ad (1) That plugin is so old and I never cared to update it. Thanks for the hint. ad (2) I've added a third mapping that creates a prefilled substitute command. Aug 10, 2019 at 10:07

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