I do a lot of plain text file editing, and many times I need to mark a section of text as 'DO NOT FORMAT' as it is pre-formatted, or even contains ascii art.

Many years ago I did this by marking the block as a comment, and telling vim NOT to format such blocks.

Example text...

Looking across the road, I could see a large
rectangular building with various shops underneath.
Across the top half of the building was a sign.

|                        The Doctor's Folly
|              Discreet and confidential medical clinic
|                     First time checkups, FREE

I want the uncommented text to be re-formatted using 'gq' (EG: during a whole file re-format 'gggqG' ) but have it completely ignore the marked section of text as it is already pre-formatted.

Current settings

:setl textwidth=79
:setl comments=b:\|
:setl formatoptions=tcorjq1l

I had it working YEARS ago, but vim has changed, and started to format the commented text sections.

I'm thinking I may need a special purpose 'formatexpr' to get it to ignore the specially marked text.

OR use a special macro to itterate over paragraphs, but only reformat the ones that are not marked with '|' as the first characte.

Either of these solutions would let me still reformat 'comment' bullet lists.

  • In response to a answer that was later changed.... I have tried removing the 'c' from the 'fo' options, but when I re-format the whole file the commented paragraph is also re-formatted, and left aligned with the indent of the first line. I would not be asking if it was THAT simple! Similarly removing 'q' makes the commented block reformatted as if '|' was just a normal word, resulting in a very BIG mess.
    – anthony
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 22:23

2 Answers 2


Unfortunately, I can't find anything to force Vim to exclude some text region from the manual formatting. But at least the following script should do this:

" format a line range except the lines starting with a 'comment' string
function! MyFormat(comment) range
    " go to the firstline; then mark the lastline
    execute a:firstline ';' a:lastline "k'"
    " actually it's do / while
    let l:start = 1
    while l:start
        " the last line number could change, so we use a bookmark
        let l:end = line("''")
        " go to the first line which is NOT a comment
        let l:start = search('\V\^\(' . a:comment . '\)\@!', 'c', l:end)
        if l:start
            " ...until the next comment
            let l:count = search('\V\^' . a:comment, 'n', l:end) - l:start
            " no comment found -- format the rest and exit the loop
            if l:count < 1
                let l:count = l:end - l:start + 1
                let l:start = 0
            " do formatting and go to the next line
            execute 'normal!' l:count . 'gqq+'

" map Q to our function
noremap <silent>Q :%call MyFormat("\<bar>")<CR>
ounmap Q

" Now in Normal mode Q formats the whole buffer;
" [count]Q formats [count] lines starting from the current one;
" In Visual mode Q formats the selection.

Found it...

In a moment of serendipity, I discovered that a comment block in a different file was not reformatted! The only difference was this file used a different set of 'ftplugin' and 'syntax' configuration.

After a LONG bit of detective work I finally traced the solution to changing my comment settings from...

:setl comments=b:\|


:setl comments=fn:\|

When I did this the 'gq' text re-formating (or text re-flow) did not change the lines. that is because it will then see each and every line in the comment as a seperate paragraph (like a bullet list), so does nto re-indent, or merge short lines.

HOWEVER: This is only a partial solution, as 'gq' still looks at that text!

This means 'gq' will still break up long lines, without adding comment leaders. And when editing it will not insert a comment leader on carriage returns or open new line, which was why I was using 'b:\|' in the first place.

But works for me as all the lines are less that the default 'textwidth' setting.

@Matt Thank you very much for you code. I will be trying it out as it would be even better if 'gq' did not even try to do anything, even for long lines.

If someone has a better solution, maybe using 'formatexpr' to modify actual 'gq' behavior, that would be appreciated.

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