How do I run an external filtering program on a part of a line?

When I do:


it always filters the whole line regardless of whether the whole line is selected or just a part of it.

  • 1
    you can't since ex commands are by default linewise. Easiest way is to copy the line and remove the parts that you do not want to filter. Alternatively, using a plugin like my NarrowRegion plugin may help. Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 12:27
  • 1
    As Christian says, :! and other ex commands work line-by-line, so it filters the whole lone. You cant change this behavior, but you can do workarounds... a good answer will demonstrate such workarounds.
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 13:01

1 Answer 1


Try this:

 :s/\%V.*\%V./\=system('myfilter', submatch(0))[:-2]/

As an example, consider this text:

one  zwei three
four fünf six

Visually select the block containing the german numbers zwei and fünf, and run this command:

:'<,'>s/\%V.*\%V./\=system('trans -brief', submatch(0))[:-2]/

It should translate the numbers into english:

one  two three
four five six

filter visual block to translate german numbers into english

Requires the shell utility translate-shell.

To make the process a little easier, you could install this mapping:

xno <c-g>s :s/\%V.*\%V./\=system('', submatch(0))[:-2]/<c-r>=setcmdpos(28)[-1]<cr>

Press C-g s while selecting your text. It should populate the command-line with:

:'<,'>s/\%V.*\%V./\=system('', submatch(0))[:-2]/
                            cursor right before

And the cursor should be correctly positioned to let you immediately type the name of the filter you want to use.

For more info, see:

:h /\%V
:h system()
:h submatch()
:h setcmdpos()

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