If I want to find occurrences of the word 'arc', I can type / arc , with spaces around the three letters, to find basic occurrences of the word (ignoring punctuation). But suppose I want to find where two words are close together, say, within ten words? Here's an example:

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

In this test, I want to find all occurrences where the word 'aid' is within ten words of the word 'country'. How can I do that in Vim?

  • 1
    Also, instead of spaces you can use word boundaries: /\<arc\>
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 13:27

1 Answer 1


To find aid separated from country by at most 3 words, choose one:

  • /aid\(\W\+\w\+\)\{,3}\W\+country
  • /\vaid(\W+\w+){,3}\W+country

If words may be separated only by single space characters, it can be further simplified to

  • /\vaid( \w+){,3} country

Try it on this minimal, reproducible example:

Now is to the aid of their country.
Now aid of come their the country.

Only the first line should have a match, as it contains 2 words between aid and country, while the second line contains 4 words between aid and country.

The regex elements explained:

  • (\W+\w+) = a capture group, capturing \W+\w+.
    • \W+\w+ = 1 or more non-word characters followed by 1 or more word characters.
  • {,3} = The maximum number of occurrences of the capture group.

The very magic mode is enabled with a leading \v, so as to get rid of so much escaping in the non-magic counterpart.

  • BTW, why \W (non-word) instead of \s (whitespace). With the former, a distance of three, and target words "SS" and "EE" you'd get three matches in SS The quick brown EE fox jumped SS over twenty-two EE dogs at SS 3:12:20 EE last Thursday.. That looks like three, two and one word between SS/EE respectively. If you wanted the number and time to count as single words you'd want to replace \W with \s and \w with \S. Then this would have three matches: SS The quick brown EE fox jumped SS over twenty-two dogs EE at SS 3:12:20 last Thursday EE.
    – B Layer
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 14:51
  • @BLayer Indeed, that is relevant. The definition of word in the "regex world" is [A-Za-z0-9_], but linguistically twenty-two may be counted as a single word. I went for the first definition.
    – Quasímodo
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 20:06
  • There is no standard definition of "word" in regex land. And twenty-two is one word. The hyphen makes it so. Anyways, my goal was just to raise the issue for others to be aware of it rather than change anyone's mind.
    – B Layer
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 20:38
  • @BLayer In the "POSIX standard" sense, there is not, but it is the most common. I'm sure your goal is just to point out something relevant (it is!), but I cannot lose the chance to exchange ideas with the community :)
    – Quasímodo
    Commented Sep 28, 2020 at 16:48

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